Diabetes is a chronic disorder that, when left untreated, can lead to a host of serious complications. The good news is that diabetes is highly treatable. Diabetes occurs when your body either does not produce insulin or it does not use insulin effectively.
Your body receives its fuel from carbohydrates from your diet. In a healthy individual, the body will break carbohydrates down into the simplest form of sugar, known as glucose, and insulin will then transport sugar from your blood stream into the cells.
Type I and Type II Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. In Type I diabetes, your pancreas cannot produce insulin. This form of diabetes is usually diagnosed early on in childhood and must be treated with insulin.
Type II diabetes is the most common form and may develop later on in life. In this form of diabetes, your body produces enough insulin but is incapable of using it effectively. For a while, your body will compensate for this by producing excess insulin, leaving the problem virtually undetected. However, over time, your body exhausts itself and is no longer able to keep up with these high demands. As you age, your blood sugar levels can no longer be maintained at a normal level without some form of intervention.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
Signs and symptoms of diabetes may initially be very subtle. However, over time your symptoms may gradually increase, becoming much more worrisome. The key to eliminating serious health problems related to diabetes is through early detection and intervention. It is important that you listen to your body; if you feel like something just isn’t right, it is always best to share your concerns with your physician.
- Increased thirst and frequent urination are the hallmark signs of diabetes. With diabetes, your body cannot properly distribute sugar to your cells and it builds up in your bloodstream. It is your kidneys’ job to filter out this extra sugar, leading to excessive urination. This leaves your body dehydrated, increasing your thirst.
- You may feel exhausted all of the time. Carbohydrates are what fuel your body. With untreated diabetes, your body is incapable of meeting prolonged demands for energy
- Typically losing weight is considered a good thing, but unexplained, excessive weight loss can often by a sign of serious health problem. Since your cells aren’t getting enough sugar, eventually, your body will begin burning fat for energy.
- Untreated diabetes can wreak havoc on the nervous system, causing numbness, burning or tingling sensation in either your hands or feet.
- Frequent infections or injuries that take a long time to heal can be a sign of diabetes. Regularly having high blood sugar levels impairs your body’s immune system and circulatory system. This can lead to poor healing of body sores and bruises. High blood sugar levels also may cause women to suffer from repeated urinary tract infections.
- Blurred vision is usually a late sign of diabetes. High levels of sugar in the bloodstream cause your body to pull fluid from the tissues surrounding your eyes. When left untreated, this can eventually impair vision and over time lead to blindness.
If you are noticing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider. Testing for diabetes has become much more convenient than in years past. Diabetes can be diagnosed through a simple laboratory blood test. Results that are outside the normal range will be followed up with a second test.
The A1C was once used only to monitor the blood sugar levels of those already diagnosed with diabetes and not as a diagnostic tool, because different tests gave varied results. However, in recent years, the National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program developed specific standards for all A1C tests, making the test results consistent and much more reliable. The A1C has now become the recommended diagnostic test for diabetes; it is much more convenient than other tests because it does not require fasting prior to the test.
The A1C measures your average blood sugar level for the past three months, and is reported by a percentage rate—the higher the percentage rate, the higher the average blood sugar level. A normal A1C level should be 5.7 percent or lower; anything above 6.5 percent is indicative of diabetes and a result of 5.7-6.4 percent is diagnosed as pre-diabetes.
Fasting Plasma Glucose Test
The FPG is also commonly used to diagnose diabetes. It tests your blood sugar level after you have fasted for eight hours and is usually obtained in the morning. A normal blood sugar level is 99 or below; a level of 126 or higher is indicative of diabetes and a level of 100 to 125 is diagnosed as pre-diabetes.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests maintaining an A1C level that is below 7%. Studies have shown that following these A1C guidelines can dramatically reduce your risk of serious complications related to diabetes. The most common ways to control diabetes and maintain A1C levels below 7 % include insulin injections, oral medications, and dietary and lifestyle changes.
In some early stages of Type II diabetes, a healthy diet low in fat and exercise may be all you need to control your blood sugar levels. A healthy diet consists of vegetables, whole grains, non-fat dairy, fruits, beans, and lean meats such as fish and poultry. The American Diabetic Association is a great source for healthy recipes and can help you with meal planning. If you can maintain this healthier lifestyle, you may never have to take oral medication or insulin injections to control your diabetes.
Medication is not your only option for the treatment of diabetes. There is constantly new, emerging research on the benefits of dietary changes on the control of blood glucose levels. You can also participate in clinical trials that may be effective for you. The American Diabetic Association is a great resource to know what current trials are being offered and to keep you up to date on current research.
A recent study performed by Newcastle University was able to reverse the blood sugar levels of 11 participants with Type II diabetes to normal levels, without the use of additional oral medication. The participants were given a low-calorie diet of only 600 calories per day for 8 weeks. The diet consisted of a liquid diet drink and 200 calories of non-starchy vegetables. The low-fat diet is believed to have reduced the fat levels in the pancreas, improving insulin production. While this sounds extreme, a diet high in fat has always been believed to be one of the main preventable risk factors for Type II diabetes.
Another clinical study found that participants with Type II diabetes could benefit from a diet high in legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Lentils are a great source of lean protein and soluble fiber; both help stabilize blood sugar levels. The 121 participants added at least one cup of lentils to their daily diet for three months. At the end of the trial, the participants were found to have better control over the blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The addition of legumes to the diet has been highly recommended in the national diabetes mellitus guidelines for years, but this is the first clinical trial undertaken to support these assertions.
Got milk? An observational study by Harvard showed a 20 percent reduction in developing insulin resistance in those who increased their low-fat dairy intake. A diet including dairy has also been shown to decrease the risk of developing high blood sugar levels. It appears that milk does more than just build strong bones.
These are just a few minor changes that you can make in your daily diet that may help control or even reverse your diabetes symptoms. There are new clinical trials being performed all of the time. It is up to you to educate yourself on new research and how it may impact you. Your physician is a great source of information, but not your only source. There are a lot of ways you can help yourself. The good news is that Type II diabetes responds well to lifestyle and dietary changes, making it one of the most treatable chronic diseases.