Diabetes is a complex disease that is often hard to understand. There are different types of diabetes, but today I want to talk about Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM). Common causes of T2DM include a combination of overweight and obesity, a lack of physical activity, and consuming too many calories. Family history can also play a role. This upsets the overall balance of glucose (sugar) and insulin within the body.
First, let’s start with the risk factors for T2DM. Risk factors fall into two different categories; the ones we have no control over and the ones we do. Risk factors that we have no control over include: family history of Type 2 Diabetes; race/ethnicity, age, and having a history of gestational diabetes for women. If you are American Indian/Alaska Native you are at higher risk for diabetes. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases as one gets older. If you have a parent, grandparent, or sibling with T2DM you are also at higher risk. If someone has both parents with diabetes, that person has a 75% risk of developing the disease.
Type diabetes has become an epidemic in the United States and around the world today. Did you know that there are currently 26 million people who have diabetes in the U.S alone? Even more concerning is that 7 million of those individuals have no idea that they have diabetes at this very moment.
Did you know that insulin is a hormone? I like to think of insulin as the key that unlocks the door to our body’s cells that lets sugar in. Without insulin, we keep too much glucose floating around in our blood stream and it turns our blood from a nice thin watery consistency to a thick syrup. Of course, syrup doesn’t flow as well as water. That thick blood has a hard time getting through our blood vessels and this can lead to damage throughout our system.
There is a lab test known as the Hemoglobin A1c that can be done with a finger stick which can determine if a person has prediabetes or diabetes. This test measures how much sugar (glucose) that is in the blood stream. When an A1c is 6.5% or higher, then we know a that person has diabetes. Often people do not get tested for diabetes and by the time they are diagnosed, they have already had the disease for as long as 5-7 years. Science shows with an A1c of just 6.5%, the pancreas has already lost 80% of the cells that make insulin. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to preserving the remaining cells in the pancreas that make insulin.
So what does all this mean anyway? The more weight we gain and the more inactive we become, the higher risk we have for developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because we will have more glucose in the body, which means the pancreas will be working overtime to lower our blood sugar. T2DM can develop, which then requires one to make lifestyle changes and often take medication in order prevent complications.
Making lifestyle changes before developing Type 2 Diabetes is the best way to prevent the disease. The most important steps we can take include exercise and healthy eating along with losing weight if needed. One may be able to delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes altogether. Choose a healthy eating plan that includes lean meats and dairy options, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limit, or better yet, eliminate all sugary beverages from the diet. Drinking one regular soda each day has been shown to increase one’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Get physically active if you aren’t already.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. This means doing aerobic activities such as walking, cycling, or swimming in order to get your heart rate up which is good for the waistline and heart health too. If you don’t exercise now, begin with just ten minutes a day, 2-3 days a week and work your way up. Often losing 7-10% of your body weight can significantly lower your risk of developing diabetes. As a community, we can work together to support each other in developing long-term healthy lifestyle habits that can prevent or delay this disease.