Diabetes is a disease in which the glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high. The hormone insulin usually keeps the blood glucose at the right level. But people with diabetes either can’t produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin well enough, so their blood sugar raises too high.
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and the need for lower-limb amputations.
- Type 1 diabetes
This used to be called juvenile-onset diabetes. Type 1 diabetes typically starts in childhood or early adulthood, but it can affect people of any age. It is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the cells that produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin regularly in order to regulate their sugar levels, because their bodies lose the ability to do this (usually at an early age).
Genetics and other autoimmune factors all play a role in whether a person develops type 1 diabetes. Those with a parent who is diabetic have a roughly 50% chance of developing diabetes, but it has been known to affect otherwise healthy individuals.
The long term complications of living with diabetes type 1, which must be treated indefinitely, can result from high or low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can result in seizures or unconsciousness, and high blood sugar can cause damage to various organ groups.
- Type 2 diabetes
This form was commonly called adult-onset diabetes. It usually begins in adulthood, but more and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This is almost entirely due to the greatly-increased quantities of refined sugars and processed carbohydrates that we ingest as part of our daily diets.
Obesity, a family history of diabetes, and physical inactivity increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Certain ethnic groupings are also at greater risk than others of contracting the disease. Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose with diet, exercise, weight control, and medication. Others must also take insulin. Close to 95% of all people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
The long term complications that can develop in a person with type 2 diabetes are those that are often associated with old age: heart attacks, strokes and heart disease, as well as kidney failure. Sepsis of the limbs, resulting in amputation or death, is also possible.
Because the possible symptoms of diabetes are so varied, people may have diabetes without knowing it. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to have regular check-ups with medical providers, who can detect the disease through blood tests.
People with diabetes may:
- Feel very thirsty or hungry
- Have to urinate frequently
- Feel numbness or tingling in their hands or feet
- Have very dry skin
- Have sores that don’t heal
- Feel very tired
- Lose weight
- Have lots of infections
Healthy eating helps people with diabetes reduce and control their blood sugar levels. Keeping blood sugar low can prevent the serious consequences of diabetes.
A diabetes diet can be simple—a variety of nutritious foods in limited amounts and at regular times. There may be no need for special foods or complicated diet plans. A healthy diet for a person with diabetes includes limited sweets and alcohol, and a lot of low-fat, low-calorie foods.
It is also advisable to eat little and often, rather than three large meals a day, and to include a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole-grain foods.
Special attention must be paid to the type and amount of carbohydrates that one eats. Diabetics should always avoid bad carbs, or highly refined starches and sugars such as white bread and white pasta. You should become familiar with the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates, and always shop accordingly.
Eating the same amount of carbohydrates and calories every day helps control both blood sugar and weight. Contact a registered dietician for help with diabetes problems. They can help set up food plans that work well for many diabetes issues.
Because it helps control weight and lower blood sugar, exercise is an important part of diabetes management. Exercise also lowers the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. The type of exercise depends on the physical and medical condition and exercise experience of the individual. People with diabetes should consult their doctor before starting an exercise routine.
Here are a few general exercise tips for people with diabetes:
- Check blood sugar before and after exercising.
- Check feet for sores or blisters before or after exercising.
- Wear proper socks and shoes.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercising.
- Warm up before exercising and cool down after.
- Keep a snack on hand in case blood sugar drops too low during exercise.
Diabetes is a serious disease that requires treatment from a qualified person only. Along with medication and/or insulin, diet and exercise are important parts of healthy living for people with diabetes.