Chances are, you know someone with diabetes. Whether they’re someone you love like a spouse, parent or grandparent, or just know someone like a friend or co-worker. Our knowledge of the disease ranges from acute in the case of being close to them, to vague from what we hear in the media. So what is it really, what are the myths and what are the facts?
What Is Diabetes….Really?
Well, first you need to understand what the role of insulin in your body is. When you eat, your body turns the food into a substance called glucose, it’s the fuel your muscles use. Once that happens, your pancreas is supposed to release insulin to your cells, to open them so that glucose can enter them and use the glucose for energy. When you get diabetes, that system fails. There are 2 distinct forms of diabetes, and they’re the most common forms of the diseases, however, there are other forms such as gestational diabetes, which occurs during a woman’s pregnancy.
Ok, so what are the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
- Type 1 diabetes is the most severe form of the disease. It’s what’s commonly referred to as ‘Insulin Dependent Diabetes’, and can sometimes be referred to as ‘juvenile’ diabetes, because Type 1 usually develops in children and teenagers, but it can develop really at any age. With Type 1, the body’s immune system attacks part of the pancreas, the organ that releases insulin to the cells, and although we’re still not sure why, the immune system sees the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as foreign, and destroys them. Type 1 diabetes is also known as an autoimmune disorder. The cells have a name, islets (pronounced EYE-lets), and they’re the cells that sense glucose in the blood and produce the necessary amount of insulin to normalize blood sugars. Insulin is the key to opening your cells that allows glucose to enter your cells and use that glucose for energy. When the key isn’t there to open the cells, that glucose sits in your blood and builds up, resulting in your cells starving for glucose. The issue is, your body can’t deal with high levels of blood glucose, and the result is damage to your eyes which can lead to blindness, damage to your kidneys, nerves and your heart. In severe cases, it can also lead to what’s called a diabetic coma, and death. So, a person with Type 1 diabetes takes insulin injections to get insulin back to your cells, so your body can use the glucose. It’s a balancing act, and one that requires discipline by those affected, but it IS manageable, and people with Type 1 can live long lives if handled properly.
- Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, and often referred to as ‘Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes’. It’s also called ‘Adult Onset Diabetes’, since it typically develops after age 35, although a number of younger people are now developing the disease due to poor eating habits. People with Type 2 are able to produce some of the insulin they require, although often it’s not enough, and sometimes the insulin ‘key’ won’t work, the cells won’t open to receive the glucose. This is what’s referred to as Insulin Resistance. Although not exclusively, Type 2 is often found in people who are overweight and live a sedentary lifestyle, which is why you’ll frequently see me saying how important even 30 minutes of exercise a day can benefit the body. Treatment for people with Type 2 focuses on diet and exercise, with some cases requiring oral medications to help the body better use its own insulin more efficiently. Injections aren’t unheard of, but are much rarer than with Type 1.
What Are The Myths About Diabetes?
Myth #1: It’s caused by eating too much sugar.
False. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from clients, or in general discussion. Sure, eating too many sweets isn’t good for you, but you won’t become diabetic because of it. The precise cause of diabetes isn’t known – it could be environmental, viruses or genetics – what is known, is that eating too many sweets….that won’t do it.
Myth #2: Taking insulin = Fail
Again, False. If you’ve become Type 1 diabetic, there is no other option for you than to take insulin. It’s a survival issue and there is no other treatment. If you’re Type 2 diabetic, you may be able to manage your diabetes without injections. A good combination of healthy eating and physical activity can give your body the fighting chance it needs to keep the disease from getting any worse. The unfortunate news is, diabetes changes over time, and eventually, most people will need to go on insulin – which doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad job, it actually means the opposite. Getting started on insulin will actually help you to better manage the disease, which in turn, lowers your risk of developing anything more complicated.
Myth #3: If you’re diabetic, you can’t lead a healthy lifestyle
False. This myth is actually a damaging one, because the opposite is actually true. Long-term studies have shown the positive impact regular physical activity can have on lowering blood glucose levels in the body. Of course, you’re going to want to run any physical activity program by your doctor or endocrinologist, but once you’ve settled into a program, getting active and healthy is not only possible, it’s encouraged. One thing to remember…chances are it’s been some time since you were in high school and regular physical activity isn’t part of your daily regiment. Always talk to your doctor about the physical activity you’d like to do, and start slow. Pushing it out of the gate can have its own negative effects.
Myth #4: Insulin injections are painful
I know there are many people who are reading this that don’t like needles, but it doesn’t have to hurt. In reality, it shouldn’t hurt at all. Many specialists will show you a good injection technique so the injection is either painless or pretty damn close.
What Are The Facts Terry?
Fact #1: About 1/3 of all people with diabetes, don’t know they have the disease.
The reason for that is, the symptoms aren’t that worry-some by themselves. Let’s take a look at them for a moment:
- You’re going to the bathroom more often. People who drink a lot of coffee and water know this one well. The reason it’s a symptom though, is because this is how your body is getting rid of excess sugar in the blood. In-fact, when the disease was first discovered, one of the tests a doctor would do is to taste a person’s urine to detect the sugar level in it. Even today, there’s a company in the UK that makes whiskey using the filtered urine of elderly diabetics…it’s not for sale, but still, I’ll pass.
- You’re thirstier than usual. If you’re going to the bathroom more frequently, chances are you’ll feel parched more. We tend to drink sugary drinks more than not, which loads the bloodstream with excess sugar, and the cycle continues. We tend to pass this off as a passing ‘thing’ and don’t think twice about it. You might want to think twice now.
- You’ve lost a little weight. Now you’re starting to see why these symptoms are easy to miss. Almost all of us want to lose weight, so a few pounds dropping off isn’t usually a concern we have. When you think about it, being obese is a risk factor for becoming diabetic, so it’s a little counterintuitive that losing a few pounds is an indicator of a problem. Well, the weight loss in this case can be coming from 2 things: water loss from over urination, and not absorbing all the calories from the food you eat as they leave in your urine. If you’re diabetic, a little weight gain up-front is actually a good thing, it means you’re managing your blood sugar levels effectively.
- You feel shaky and hungry. How many of you snack on breakfast bars, or fire something sweet down the gullet for breakfast? I think we’ve all attributed feeling sluggish to either not eating enough or not sleeping enough. The truth is, that ‘sluggish’ feeling may be the result of your body releasing too much insulin to balance that blast of carbs, and your glucose drops quickly. In-turn, you feel shaky and tend to crave carbs or sugar, and the vicious cycle starts over.
- You’re tired all the time. Duh! Of course you’re exhausted, but ongoing fatigue is a symptom you really do need to pay attention to. It’s a sign that the food you’re eating isn’t being broken down and used by your cells like it’s supposed to. In many cases of Type 2, your sugar levels can actually be elevated for a while, so the symptoms can come on slowly.
- You’re moody and grumpy. With this one, we’d suspect about 50% of the people we meet are diabetic. The truth is, when your blood sugar is screwed up you just don’t feel well, and might become short-tempered. High blood sugar can mimic depression-like symptoms, so it’s often dismissed by some as just being depressed, and doctors can think you need to be treated for depression, but once your blood sugar normalizes, you’re all good.
- Your vision seems blurry. How many of you have had those moments where you needed a moment, thinking not getting enough sleep was the culprit behind you needing a moment to focus? Don’t freak out, it’s not diabetic retinopathy, where your blood vessels in the back of your eye are being destroyed…in the early stages of diabetes, it’s actually a sign that glucose is building up in the eye, which temporarily changes its shape. The eye is one tough cookie, it’ll actually sort itself out in about six-to-eight weeks after your blood sugar has stabilized.
- Your cuts/scrapes heal more slowly. Ok, this one is actually harder to notice for most, but it’s a sign that your immune system and the processes that help your body heal aren’t working so well, because your blood sugar is high. In reality, most of the body’s systems don’t work so hot when your blood sugar levels are too high. Something worth thinking about.
- Your feet tingle. Again you’ll see why these things are easy to miss. Tingles in your feet are actually common, like when you’ve been sitting at a weird position and cutting off the blood flow to your foot and leg. High blood sugar levels can actually cause complications well before you have diabetes, such as mild nerve damage causing numbness in your feet.
- You’re more prone to urinary tract and yeast infections. If you’re a baker, then you’re familiar with how yeast loves sugar, as yeast is a form of bacteria that feeds on it. Higher levels of sugar in the blood are a breeding ground for bacteria, which among other things, can lead to increased urinary and yeast infections. If you get frequent infections, expect your doctor to check you for diabetes if you aren’t already diabetic, this one can lead to some serious complications.
Fact #2: Type 2 diabetes often doesn’t have any symptoms.
I would like to return your attention to the above 10 points. Type 2 symptoms look like so many other things, it takes a trained professional to know which combination of things, or which warning signs actually are tell-tale signs you’re on the path to, or have Type 2 diabetes.
Fact #3: Only about 5% of all people with diabetes have Type 1.
Scary isn’t it? That’s why it’s important to a) see your doctor regularly for physicals, and b) eat healthier and exercise at least 30 minutes to help your body maintain balance.
Fact #4: If you’re at risk, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with moderate weight loss (10-15lbs) and 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
Kinda says it all doesn’t it?
Fact #5: A meal plan for a person with diabetes isn’t very different than what’s recommended for most people without diabetes.
The truth is, a healthy diet with whole-grains, fruits and vegetables for fiber, and smart choices for fats like nuts and avocados with non-processed foods and meats can give the body everything it needs to keep a whole string of ailments away from you.
Fact #6: Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults.
If you look at point #7 above, it’s easy for us to dismiss blurred vision with being exhausted from being overworked, not slept enough, or hereditary eye degeneration because of family. The truth is, don’t ignore this. Keep your physicals going, and make sure you ask questions. Doctors are people too, and no-one’s perfect.
Fact #7: People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease than someone without diabetes.
It’s your body’s inability to cope with higher blood glucose levels that makes it susceptible to a whole range of diseases, including heart disease. Your body just wasn’t meant to tolerate high blood sugar, and as can be expected, your body will react if subjected to it over a prolonged period.
Fact #8: Good control of diabetes significantly reduces the risk of developing complications and prevent complications from getting worse.
If detected early, addressed appropriately, and monitored regularly, you can completely mitigate any complications from affecting your body further, and actually reduce the risk significantly of anything else rearing its head and ruining your day.
Fact #9: Bariatric surgery can reduce the symptoms of diabetes in obese people.
Let’s face it, no-one like surgery…well mostly no-one. The truth is that this type of surgery reduces the area in your stomach, this reduces the amount of food you eat, so you feel full a lot quicker. Your body can then manage the glucose levels in your blood much better, and balance becomes easier to maintain. The biggest drawback is that your body can’t absorb as many vitamins and minerals as before, which can result in other health issues. A healthy diet becomes even more important here.
Fact #10: Diabetes cost over $175 Billion annually, including over $120 Million in direct medical expenses.
Diseases aren’t cheap. You only get one body, and it’s costly to take care of it once you let things get to a certain point. Medical bills, needles, blood sugar monitors, insulin…the costs add up, and they aren’t cheap. If you want to avoid being one of those people contributing to raising those numbers, act now, monitor, balance, eat right and exercise. The alternative isn’t pleasant – have you noticed anyone online praising having diabetes? Might be something to that.
If you think I missed something, or you have something to add to this, please leave a comment below.