Diabetes – What Causes It, And How To Prevent It
“Diabetes” is a scary word. For most people, it conjures up images of poor diet, insulin syringes, and dire medical emergencies. The reality is much more nuanced. For example, while it is often associated with the elderly and the overweight, it can affect people of all ages, all body types, and all diets.
Hundreds of years ago, with no way of testing for diabetes and no way of treating it, it was often considered a death sentence. But with modern medical technology and knowledge it is, in most cases, both preventable and treatable. In some cases, it is even reversible with long-term lifestyle changes. This does not mean that it is not a serious medical situation, and one that must be addressed right away.
What Is Diabetes?
First, is it important to get our definitions straight. “Diabetes” is not a single disease, but rather a group of diseases characterized by abnormally high blood sugar and an inability for the body to properly produce and utilize insulin, a naturally-occurring hormone that controls blood sugar.
Your body needs something called glucose to survive. When your body absorbs any type of sugar, it is turned into glucose. Insulin is produced in the pancreas Some forms of diabetes—such as type 2 and gestational — are caused by the body’s inability to properly use its insulin.
Signs of Diabetes
There are many symptoms and signs you can watch out for if you want to avoid this disease.
Excessive urination, dry mouth and dry skin, a lack of energy even if you’ve had a good night’s rest, vision problems (Especially blurring), and sudden weight loss are all common signs of diabetes.
The above are all early-warning symptoms of diabetes. If it is left untreated, further symptoms may develop such as slow healing cuts and scrapes, numbness in the feet, overly-sweet smelling breath, and nausea.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always present with the above symptoms. For many people, it does not present with any immediate symptoms at all.
Types of Diabetes:
Pre-diabetes is not, technically speaking, a form of the disease. Rather, it is a way of categorizing people who are likely to develop type 2 or gestational diabetes . Finding out of if you are pre-diabetic is the most important step you can take to avoiding this disease in the future. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this couldn’t be more true than it is with this disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
Also called adult onset diabetes, is the most common form of the disease, effecting more than 90% of diabetics. Unlike type 1, where the body is incapable of producing insulin, type 2 diabetics are still producing insulin. However, that insulin is not being used properly by the body.
Risk Factors and Causes: Identical to pre-diabetes. A high-calorie diet, obesity, lack of exercise are all risk factors for type 2, but they aren’t the only ones. Age is also a major factor—you are much more likely to develop it after the age of 45, and upwards of a quarter of people 65 and older have type 2. A family history is also a huge indicator.
Type 1 Diabetes
Also known as juvenile diabetes, due to its tendency to first manifest itself during childhood. This is a chronic, lifelong illness. Unlike other forms of the disease, type 1 has little to do with lifestyle, and represents less than 10% of all instances of the entire disease. It should also be noted that, although it usually manifests in children, it can also strike adults.
Risk Factors And Causes: Unlike other forms of the disease, type 1 has little or nothing to do with lifestyle and diet.
This form of the disease only effects pregnant women. For most women, this will resolve on its own as the pregnancy advances. But in general, it bears a lot of similarities to type 2.
Risk Factors And Causes: Gestational diabetes only occurs during pregnancy, but women with type 1 or type 2 going into a pregnancy—or women that were pre-diabetic before the pregnancy—have a significantly increased chance of developing it.
What Can I Do To Prevent Diabetes?
Type 1 is almost always genetic, meaning that there’s not much that can be done to prevent it. However, all other forms of the disease are, to one extent or another, preventable.
How To Control Diabetes
First off, if you do have diabetes, remember that you’re in good company. About ten percent of the United States has type 1 or type 2 , and close to a third of the country is prediabetic. Also, remember that, thanks to modern medicine and a much better understanding of the disease than our ancestors had, diabetics can live normal, healthy, long lives.
It should be noted that diabetes is, in some cases, reversible. Pre-diabetes is totally reversible, and gestational usually goes away after the pregnancy ends. Type 2 is in some cases reversible, especially during the early days of the disease, but for most people, it is permanent. Type 1 is, unfortunately, incurable.
The approach to controlling it:
The approach to controlling the disease relies on both medication and significant lifestyle changes. Its medication includes various medicines to control blood sugar levels, as well as regular insulin injections.
The second part, lifestyle changes, is more difficult for many people. Taking a shot once a day is easier for many people than radically changing what they eat and how they live.
Your main lifestyle focus should be diet. Fewer processed foods, more healthy foods, and more whole grains will all have a positive effect on your blood glucose levels.
In addition to diet changes, habits like smoking and drinking can also negatively affect diabetics. According to the American Center for Disease Control. Smokers are upwards of 40% more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers. Alcohol also has a habit of increasing the odds of diabetic complications. Both due to the stress it puts on the body and the high sugar levels in alcohols like liquor, beer, and wine.
These steps do not necessarily apply to people with gestational diabetes. Most cases of it will clear up within a few months. but that is no reason to take it lightly. Your obstetrician will be able to better tell you what steps to take to deal with it. As sudden weight and diet changes are usually unwise for pregnant women, unless done under a physician’s guidance.