What is Diabetes?
Diabetes—actually a collection of diseases—is a metabolic disorder marked by the body’s inability to effectively utilize sugar, combined with abnormally high-levels of blood glucose.
Think of sugar as the energy your body needs to function. As you eat and digest, your body breaks down food into glucose (sugar) and passes it into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it travels throughout the body and into our cells where the glucose is used for energy.
In order for this process to occur, your pancreas manufactures a hormone called insulin which is used to regulate the transfer of sugar from the blood into your cells.
However, with diabetes, either the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin or the cells fail to respond to the insulin. When this happens glucose backs up into your bloodstream and overflows through your urine. Once this occurs you fit into the class of people known as diabetics.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 23 million Americans suffer from diabetes — primarily Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational diabetes — resulting in $174 billion in direct medical costs and $58 billion incurred due to disability, work loss and premature mortality. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes; 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2.
The negative health outcomes of diabetes are profound; diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults and has been linked to non-traumatic amputation, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, kidney, periodontal and nervous system disease.
And if that’s not enough, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, in 2011, one out of four people aged 65 or older have diabetes.
In recent years, medical science has focused on a condition known as “pre-diabetes” because it affects so many type 2 diabetes sufferers. Unlike type 1 or gestational diabetes, virtually everyone who develops type 2 will experience pre-diabetes. For 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic.
You may be pre-diabetic and suffering long-term damage to your body—and not even know it. Pre-diabetics are people who are no longer processing sugars normally and have higher than normal blood glucose levels, but not high enough to fit the classic diagnosis of diabetes.
Are You Pre-Diabetic—Look for the Signs
People who are pre-diabetic may not be aware of any overt symptoms, but here are some general things to look for that may suggest asking your doctor for an evaluation.
- you’re overweight (body mass index over 25)
- you have darkened skin on neck, elbows, knees or knuckles
- excessive fatigue
- frequent urination
- blurred vision
- increased thirst
- high blood pressure
- you only sleep 5.5 or fewer hours each night.
A Middle-Aged Mistake
Don’t confuse being pre-diabetic with middle-age. Many of us think that being tired, overweight, or needing glasses is just a consequence of getting older. We don’t expect to have the stamina of a teenager…our 50+ eyes need a little help…we expect a little stiffness when we get out of bed in the morning. That’s middle-age, isn’t it? But that may not actually be the case.
Our risks increase as we age. By 45, over 8 percent of us will be officially diagnosed with diabetes. Between the ages of 55 and 64, that figure doubles to 16 percent. By the time we hit 65 and over, fully 1 out of 4 will be diagnosed with diabetes, and most will have type 2. It could be your blurry vision isn’t due to age.
The good news is if you are pre-diabetic and it’s caught in time, there’s a good chance you can reverse the process.
Things You Can Do to Fight Back
There are a number of things you can do to combat the onset of pre-diabetes and the possible progression to Type 2 Diabetes. First, if you’re overweight – lose it. If your Body Mass Index is too high, reduce the amount of calories you’re ingesting. A good goal is to lose at least 5 – 10% of your starting weight. Avoid processed foods and eat healthy foods with a low glycemic index.
Research indicates that consuming high glycemic index foods like white bread, pasta and rice generally make blood sugar levels higher. Instead, eat low glycemic index foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Some food producers are now offering foods such as pasta that have been altered to lower their glycemic index. Supplements are also available that can lower the glycemic index of meals.
Begin a program of regular exercise. The National Institute of Health recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day – take a walk after dinner, go for a bike ride or swimming. That physical activity will help you lose unwanted weight and actually help your body’s insulin work better.
Ask your doctor if you need to have your blood-glucose levels tested or if you need to take some form of medication. Your fasting blood-sugar (or glucose) level should be between 70 to 100 milligrams per deciliter.
Remember, if you are pre-diabetic and act now, you may save yourself a world of heartache later.