What is diabetes and why should you even care about it?
Type 2 diabetes is what you get when your body’s ability to properly regulate glucose as fuel is impaired. When you have type 2 diabetes, it is a chronic condition where you have too much sugar floating around in your bloodstream. This will become problematic for you when high blood sugar levels lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous and immune systems. In other words, type 2 diabetes is no laughing matter and must be taken seriously, although many people do not. I am not a gambler, but I would be more than willing to wager that you either know a person who does not take their diabetes seriously, or that you could even be one of them yourself.
When you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas is no longer producing enough insulin to keep your blood-sugar down, and/or your cells have become immune to insulin and no longer take in blood sugar as they should. When you have type 2 diabetes it affects many major organs, including your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Also, factors that increase the risk of diabetes are risk factors for other serious chronic diseases. In other words, if “YOU” do not turn this ship around, you are facing life threatening conditions that could be avoided altogether.
Ignore these warning signs at your own peril!
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Unintended weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck
Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly. In fact, you can be living with type 2 diabetes for years and not know it, until it causes you severe problems or even an early demise from heart disease. I cannot emphasize the seriousness of diabetes enough. People with type 2 diabetes who have no other health risk factors for heart disease are five times more likely to die of heart disease than those without. Additionally, people with type 2 diabetes, no matter the number of other heart disease risk factors, are as likely to have a heart attack as someone without diabetes who has already suffered a heart attack.
The most common cause of heart disease in a person with diabetes is hardening of the coronary arteries or atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart. And this condition can usually be avoided through proper nutrition and exercise. You truly are what you eat – eat a lot of junk and your body will be junk before you know it. This can be avoided!
Factors that may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes include:
- Weight. Being overweight or obese is a main risk. And yes, in the vast majority of the population, something can be done about weight problems.
- Fat distribution. Storing fat mainly in your abdomen — rather than your hips and thighs — indicates a greater risk. Your risk of type 2 diabetes rises if you’re a man with a waist circumference above 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) or a woman with a measurement above 35 inches (88.9 centimeters). You have far more control over this than you may know. You just have to do something about it since no one can do it for you.
- Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. If you are unable to be physically active, then you must cut your caloric intake down to a level that produces a loss of weight. To do this with long lasting results, you must create a new lifestyle for yourself and then stick to it.
- Family history. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases if your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes. You can use this as an excuse, but just because type diabetes runs in your family, it does not mean you have to settle for getting it too. Diabetes can be avoided if caught early enough.
- Blood lipid levels. An increased risk is associated with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — and high levels of triglycerides. Diet, diet, diet is the key!
- Age. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45.
- Prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Left untreated, prediabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes. This is one of your early warning signs and also the point where YOU can STOP the further progress of full blown diabetes.
- Pregnancy-related risks. Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases if you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant or if you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms).
- Polycystic ovary syndrome. Having polycystic ovary syndrome — a common condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity — increases the risk of diabetes
- Areas of darkened skin, or skin tags, usually in the armpits and neck. This condition often indicates insulin resistance. (1)
Potential complications of diabetes!
Type 2 diabetes affects many major organs, including your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Also, factors that increase the risk of diabetes are risk factors for other serious chronic diseases. Managing diabetes and controlling your blood sugar can lower your risk for these complications or coexisting conditions (comorbidities):
- Heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) in limbs. High blood sugar over time can damage or destroy nerves, resulting in tingling, numbness, burning, pain or eventual loss of feeling that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward.
- Other nerve damage. Damage to nerves of the heart can contribute to irregular heart rhythms. Nerve damage in the digestive system can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, nerve damage may cause erectile dysfunction.
- Kidney disease. Diabetes may lead to chronic kidney disease or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
- Eye damage. Diabetes increases the risk of serious eye diseases, such as cataracts and glaucoma, and may damage the blood vessels of the retina, potentially leading to blindness.
- Skin conditions. Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
- Slow healing. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections, which may heal poorly. Severe damage might require toe, foot or leg amputation.
- Hearing impairment. Hearing problems are more common in people with diabetes.
- Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is common in people living with type 2 diabetes. Obesity may be the main contributing factor to both conditions. It’s not clear whether treating sleep apnea improves blood sugar control.
- Dementia. Type 2 diabetes seems to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that cause dementia. Poor control of blood sugar levels is linked to more-rapid decline in memory and other thinking skills. (1)
Get your nutrition in order by cutting out all foods with added sugars, and watch your caloric intake. With your doctor’s approval, get your tail up and start moving. These are the first steps to take. By doing these things you will lose weight. Losing even a modest amount of weight and keeping it off can delay the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, losing 7% to 10% of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes. But do not stop there. If you stop your weight loss at your minimally perceived finish line, it is going to be too easy to jump back over and into the danger zone.