November is National Diabetes Month, a public health campaign that works to bring awareness to diabetes and to encourage action towards its prevention and management. According to the American Diabetes Association nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States alone currently have diabetes and another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. To put it another way, one in every four Americans either currently has or is at risk for diabetes!
What is Diabetes?
A lot of people know that diabetes has to do with sugar but they don't fully understand the disease. Diabetes occurs when your body is unable to convert the sugar (glucose) you consume into energy and so it builds up in your blood. This is known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. The chart below shows normal blood glucose levels for those with and without diabetes. Hyperglycemia is when your blood sugar is higher than these guidelines.
High blood sugar or hyperglycemia happens for a couple of reasons that have to do with insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces and is a necessary tool for your cells to use the glucose you consume for energy. When you are insulin resistant, the cells do not “recognize” the insulin your body is making and so the glucose stays in your bloodstream. Another reason for hyperglycemia is that your pancreas can't produce insulin at all. This is the case with type 1 diabetics, although most type 2 diabetics eventually stop producing insulin as well.
How is Diabetes Managed?
For those who have diabetes, managing the disease means taking measures to control your blood glucose levels so that they stay in a healthy range. This is extremely important as complications of poorly-managed diabetes can include blindness, kidney failure, poor wound healing and even stroke or heart attack.
The three most important elements of diabetes management include self blood glucose monitoring (i.e. checking your blood sugars), diet and medications. Diabetics are encouraged to check their blood sugars several times a day in order to know if they are in the healthy range. Since the glucose in our blood comes from the food we eat, diet is a pivotal part of managing diabetes. Carbohydrates which include grains, fruit and sweets should be limited in the diet in order to keep blood glucose levels from spiking. And finally, medications including pills and insulin injections, work in different capacities to help keep blood glucose levels within a healthy range.
How Can I Prevent Diabetes?
Being overweight and having a family history are two strong risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. If you think you may be at risk, talk with your doctor, a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator or any health care professional about prevention. You can also check out these great resources for more information: