Diabetes describes a disease in which a person has high blood sugar, either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. It is classified as a metabolism disorder. Metabolism refers to the way our bodies use digested food for energy and growth.
Glucose, the principal source of fuel for our bodies, comes from the food you eat. Glucose is stored in our liver and muscles. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy. But having too much is not healthy.
An organ called the pancreas makes insulin. Insulin helps glucose get from your blood into your cells. Cells then take the glucose and turn it into energy.
If you have diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin or your cells cannot use insulin very well. Glucose builds up in your blood and cannot get into your cells. If your blood glucose stays too high, it can damage many parts of the body such as the heart, eyes, kidneys and nerves.
Three types of diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes. In type 1, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin don’t work. People with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives. Approximately 10 percent of the diabetic population is type 1.
More common is type 2 diabetes. In type 2, the pancreas still makes insulin, but cells cannot use it very well. Type 2 diabetics need to take insulin or take oral medication to help the body use its supply of insulin better. Some people may be able to control their type 2 diabetes symptoms by losing weight, following a healthy diet, doing plenty of exercise, and monitoring blood glucose levels.
Being overweight or obese, having a lot of visceral or belly fat contributes to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Another type of diabetes is called gestational diabetes and affects some women during pregnancy. Having it raises their risk for getting diabetes, mostly type 2, for the rest of their lives. It also raises their child’s risk for being overweight and getting type 2 diabetes later in life. Good blood glucose control in gestational diabetes is very important, to avoid complications in the newborn baby.
All types of diabetes are treatable. Type 1 diabetes lasts a lifetime and there is no cure. Type 2 usually lasts a lifetime; however, some people have managed, through exercise, diet and careful weight control, to get rid of their symptoms without medication. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after the baby is born.
Diabetes – left untreated
The most common complications linked to uncontrolled or untreated diabetes are:
• Eye problems – such as diabetic retinopathy or cataracts
• Foot problems – neuropathy, foot ulcers can result in infections, which in turn can lead to loss of a limb
• Heart issues – such as congestive heart failure or ischemic heart disease
• Hypertension – which raises the risk of kidney disease, heart attack and stroke
Taking care of diabetes
Managing diabetes requires making an effort to keep your blood glucose as close to normal as possible. The best way to do this is by making healthy food choices, eating the right amounts of food, exercise daily and maintaining a healthy weight. Take medicine, as prescribed, to help control your glucose, and check your blood glucose with a glucose meter as directed by your primary care physician or your health team.
Whole grain foods, nonfat or low-fat milk, fresh fruits and vegetables are great choices. For more information, join the monthly diabetic support group that meets at 1 p.m. at Senior Circle on the last Monday of the month.
Determining whether you have diabetes
Doctors can determine whether a patient has a normal metabolism, pre-diabetes or diabetes by ordering one of three tests: the A1C test, the FPG (fasting plasma glucose) test or the OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test). See your primary care physician to determine which test is best for you.
Myths and Facts about diabetes
Don’t eat too much sugar; you will become diabetic — NOT TRUE
However, a diet high in calories, which can make a person overweight, raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially if there is a family history.
Fat people always develop type 2 diabetes — NOT TRUE
The majority of overweight people do not develop type 2 diabetes, however, being overweight or obese raises the risk of becoming diabetic. Many people with type 2 diabetes were never overweight.
Children can outgrow diabetes — NOT TRUE
Almost all children with diabetes have type 1 and the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas do not work or have been destroyed. They never come back. Unless research produces a fix, these children will have to take insulin the rest of their lives.
Diabetics cannot eat bread, potatoes or pasta — NOT NECESSARILY TRUE
People with diabetes can eat starchy foods, but they must keep an eye on the portions. Whole grain starchy foods are a better choice.
Diabetes can be transmitted to another person — NOT TRUE
Diabetes is not contagious. However, diabetes can be genetically transmitted to offspring.
Only older people develop type 2 diabetes — NOT TRUE
A growing number of children and teens are developing type 2 diabetes. It is suspected that this is linked to childhood obesity, poor diet, and lack of physical activity.