Each day, press releases of all stripes cross through my email inbox, numbering in the hundreds per day: “What Every Diabetic Ought to Know About Conventional Medical Advice,” “Food is Medicine, So Eat Like a Doctor!” “Could This Be Your Diabetes Solution? Open Now” “Reverse Your Diabetes With 1 Gram a Day of This Super Spice,” or “Diabetes Goes Away With This 10-Second Trick.” They’re almost comical.
But one in particular caught my eye this week. It is about diabetes awareness.
Diabetes is a huge problem in New Mexico, exacerbated by our high populations of Hispanic and Native American people, who are diabetics in higher numbers than the general population.
March 27 is Diabetes Alert Day, and the American Diabetes Association has a quick, free online test to see if you are at risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
That seems like as good a place as any to look at the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, diabetes is a group of diseases affecting the way our bodies regulate blood sugar, or glucose. Glucose is an important source of energy for cells in muscles and tissues, and it’s the brain’s main source of fuel. Diabetes of any type means there is too much glucose in the blood.
The condition can be chronic, as with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms include: increased thirst and frequent urination; extreme hunger; unexplained weight loss; presence of ketones in the urine; fatigue; irritability; blurred vision; slow-healing sores and frequent infections such as gums, skin and vaginal infections.
The Mayo Clinic says potentially reversible conditions include prediabetes, when blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetes, and gestational diabetes, which can go away after a baby is born.
The cause of Type 1 diabetes isn’t known, but what happens is that your immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving a person with little or no insulin, and sugar building up in the bloodstream.
Type 2 is what used to be called “adult onset” diabetes only a few decades ago, but its prevalence in children now means that label has fallen away. Type 2 diabetes when our cells become resistant to insulin, and the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome it.
Here’s the kicker: risk factors. Those include obesity, smoking, inactivity, family history, race, age, high blood pressure and others.
The more fatty tissue a person has, the more resistant our cells are to insulin. Inactivity is a factor because exercise burns up that sugar as fuel and makes cells more sensitive to insulin. Risk increases if other members of your family are diabetic. Certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, Natives and Asian Americans, are at higher risk.
Here’s the part no one wants to think about, and that’s complications of diabetes. It’s a doozy.
Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack and stroke; it can lead to nerve damage, especially in the legs and feet; it can lead to kidney damage; diabetes can damage blood vessels in the eyes and lead to blindness; cuts and blisters on the feet tend not to heal well and can require amputation in severe cases; diabetes can leave a person more susceptible to skin problems; and hearing problems are common in people with diabetes. There are other complications possible as well, according to the Mayo Clinic.
With New Mexico’s population of 2 million, an estimated 230,000 adults have diabetes, and more than 530,000 have prediabetes, many without being aware of it. Those two groups combined account for a whopping 38 percent of our population.
The state department of health estimates that only 30 percent of adults with prediabetes know that, hence the quiz to assess risk. This is not a case where ignorance is bliss, and a link to the quiz is here. My own result is just on the borderline of increased risk—which I knew. And as if all of that was not enough, menopause can make dealing with diabetes more challenging.
So all of that is the bad news.
The good news is that Type 2 diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise.
Again from the Mayo Clinic’s website: Eat healthy foods, get more physical activity, and lose excess pounds.
My own approach toward healthy eating means avoiding as much as possible all processed foods, white sugar and white flour; at the same time eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Even half an hour a day of moderate physical activity can help, even when that is broken up into smaller chunks of activity throughout the day.
My own journey toward physical fitness and away from a sedentary lifestyle started in large part because of my increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.
I have grandchildren and I want to be around to enjoy them, to play with them, dance, climb, hike and jump with them—and to be around when they have children of their own. This is what motivates me to keep going, even when things get tough and I want to quit.