Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have “pre-diabetes” — blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. There are 54 million people in the United States who have pre-diabetes. Recent research has shown that some long-term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already be occurring during pre-diabetes.
The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.
There are two major types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, the hormone that “unlocks” the cells of the body, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. It is estimated that 5-10% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance (a condition in which the body fails to properly use insulin), combined with relative insulin deficiency. Most Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
There is also pre-diabetes which is a condition that occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. There are 54 million Americans who have pre-diabetes, in addition to the 20.8 million with diabetes.
Diabetes symptoms may vary from person to person but most of the time anyone with diabetes will experience some or all of these symptoms. Some symptoms are: going to the restroom more often, staying thirsty, fatigue, blurred vision, stomach pain and occasionally people suffer from weight loss.
Type 1 diabetes is normally only found in children and type 2 diabetes is found mostly in adults but not always. There are some cases where children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Some people may be diagnosed with being borderline diabetic, which normally ends up turning into full blown diabetes but not always.
Some of the most important things people with diabetes should know is a healthy, nutritional diet and a regular exercise program can help in treating the disease. Speak with your doctor about what kind of diet you should consider following, along with a moderate exercise program. The doctor or a nutritionist should be able to tell you exactly what kinds of foods you should be avoiding and give you some tips on how much exercise you need every week. Doing this has many health benefits and will also make you feel so much better about yourself.
You should know the truth about some of the most common myths about diabetes. Myth #1 You can catch diabetes from someone else. No. Although we don’t know exactly why some people develop diabetes, we know diabetes is not contagious. It can’t be caught like a cold or flu. There seems to be some genetic link in diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle factors also play a part.
Myth #2 People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate. If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more “off limits” to people with diabetes, than they are to people without diabetes.
Myth #3 Eating too much sugar causes diabetes. No. Diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. However, being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, eating a healthy meal plan and regular exercise are recommended to manage your weight.
Myth #4 People with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods. A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is the same as that for everyone – low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit. Diabetic and “dietetic” versions of sugar-containing foods offer no special benefit. They still raise blood glucose levels, are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols.
Myth #5 If you have diabetes, you should only eat small amounts of starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes and pasta. Starchy foods are part of a healthy meal plan. What is important is the portion size. Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, peas and corn can be included in your meals and snacks. The key is portions. For most people with diabetes, having 3-4 servings of carbohydrate-containing foods is about right. Whole grain starchy foods are also a good source of fiber, which helps keep your gut healthy.
Myth #6 People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and other illnesses. No. You are no more likely to get a cold or another illness if you have diabetes. However, people with diabetes are advised to get flu shots. This is because any infection interferes with your blood glucose management, putting you at risk of high blood glucose levels and, for those with type 1 diabetes, an increased risk of ketoacidosis.
Myth #7 Insulin causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high blood pressure. No, insulin does not cause atherosclerosis. In the laboratory, there is evidence that insulin can initiate some of the early processes associated with atherosclerosis. Therefore, some physicians were fearful that insulin might aggravate the development of high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. But it doesn’t.
Myth #8 Insulin causes weight gain, and because obesity is bad for you, insulin should not be taken. Both the UKPDS (United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study) and the DCCT (Diabetes Control & Complications Trial) have shown that the benefit of glucose management with insulin far outweighs (no pun intended) the risk of weight gain.
Myth #9 Fruit is a healthy food. Therefore, it is OK to eat as much of it as you wish. Fruit is a healthy food. It contains fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals. Because fruit contains carbohydrate, it needs to be included in your meal plan. Talk to your dietitian about the amount, frequency and types of fruits you should eat.
Myth #10 You don’t need to change your diabetes regimen unless your A1C is greater than 8 percent. The better your glucose control, the less likely you are to develop complications of diabetes. An A1C in the sevens (7s), however, does not represent good control. The ADA goal is less than 7 percent. The closer your A1C is to the normal range (less than 6 percent), the lower your chances of complications. However, you increase your risk of hypoglycemia, especially if you have type 1 diabetes. Talk with your health care provider about the best goal for you.
There is no cure right now for diabetes but there are several different forms of treatment available for you. Do not give up hope on feeling better and living a long, healthy, happy life. Even if you are one of the many that has been diagnosed with this disease, it does not mean that your life as you know it is over. It simply means you may need medication and you will have to consider certain lifestyle changes that will have an amazing outcome once you have done so. There are many other treatment options that could eventually be available to you but are currently undergoing more detailed research.