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Diabetes Information

 

Diabetes is a medical condition where the body ceases to produce insulin - a hormone that is essential for converting sugar, starches, and other foods into energy.  In some diabetics (particularly Type II) insulin is produced by the pancreas; however the body is unable to utilize its own insulin.  With both of these conditions the blood sugar remains high.  Untreated diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, loss of limbs, nerve damage, pregnancy complications, and death. 

65% of people with diabetes die from a heart attack or a stroke, and they die younger than the rest of the population.  Depending upon which expert is speaking, diabetics are 3 to 6 times more likely to die of the flu.  Therefore heart healthy eating and exercise, along with appropriate medications, are essential for a diabetic to have the best chance at a long life.  Every diabetic should have a yearly flu vaccine.  A pneumonia shot, with proper boosters should also be on the agenda.

There are 3 main types of diabetes:

  1. Type I, also known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)
  1. Type II, known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
  1. Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) 

Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults; however it is possible for older adults to get Type I diabetes.  (Mary Tyler Moore, for instance is a Type I diabetic, and she has been  the spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation for more than twenty years.)  In Type I diabetes, the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them.  With little or no insulin, the cells are prevented from taking up sugar from the blood.  A Type I diabetic must have daily injections of insulin, and she or he must adhere to a strict diet, while monitoring glucose levels several times a day.

Type I diabetes symptoms include fatigue, unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, constant hunger, weight loss, and blurred vision.  If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person can lapse into a coma and die.

Type II diabetes, often called adult onset, is by far the most common form making up about 90% to 95% of all cases of diabetes.  Usually this disease occurs in middle age.  Recently, however, more and more cases of Type II diabetes has been discovered in over weight young children.  80% of people with Type II diabetes are overweight.  In Type II diabetes the pancreas produces enough insulin; however the body cannot use the insulin properly.

Type II diabetes symptoms include fatigue, feeling ill, unquenchable thirst, frequent urination (usually at night), sudden weight loss or gain, blurred vision, frequent infections, and slow healing of wounds.

Gestational diabetes develops (or is discovered) during pregnancy.  It usually disappears after birth, but there is a greater risk of such women developing Type II diabetes later in life.  This condition occurs in 2% to 5% of pregnancies, with an even higher rate in African Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans.

Who Is at Risk?

  • If you are more than 20% over your ideal body weight, or if your mother, father, brother or sister have diabetes you are at risk.
  • Giving birth to a baby over 9 pounds, or having had gestational diabetes, you are at risk.
  • High blood pressure and abnormal blood lipid levels, or high triglycerides (greater than 250 mg/dL) can make you at risk for diabetes.
  • If you are on high levels of prednisone for asthma or allergies or other autoimmune diseases, you are very much at risk for diabetes.
  • If you are Native American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander you are at high risk for diabetes. 

In the African American communities diabetes has reached epidemic proportions.  About 25% of African American women 55 years or older have diabetes.  That is nearly twice the rate in Caucasian women.  The rate of infection for all African American women over the age of 20 is an astounding 11.8%!

Research suggests that some people carry a gene that predisposes them toward impaired glucose tolerance, which is one of the risk factors for diabetes.  This is easy for me to believe, since my mother's mother, my mother, my father, his mother, and my brother all had diabetes.  I also am a diabetic.  Including my children, maintaining proper body weight has been a battle for four generations.  Since I am also an asthmatic, and have to take prednisone frequently, this also exacerbates my diabetes.  However all is NOT lost!

Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) Clinical Trial, conducted by the National Institutes of Health illustrated that the onset of  Type II diabetes can be prevented or delayed in people at high risk.  How can this be accomplished?  A weight loss of 5% to 7% of body weight and 30 minutes of sustained exercise, such as walking, on most days, can slow down the onset or prevent diabetes.  These lifestyle changes worked equally as well for men and women, and it was nearly miraculous for people over sixty.

I know that this is true, because two years ago, at the age of 58, I began a diet and walking program on a motorized treadmill.  I was able to get off all diabetes medication, and I have lost over forty pounds!  My diabetes is well under control, and my A1C test (a blood test which measures the sugar molecules on the hemoglobin) has gone down from 7.5 to 6.3.  A perfect test would be 6.0 or below!

For Type I diabetes, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is sponsoring a nationwide study called the Diabetes Prevention Trial Type 1 (DPT-1).  They are recruiting people who have close relatives with the disease.  Animal studies and smaller studies in people have indicated that Type I diabetes may be delayed in high risk individuals, by use of small doses of insulin.

What Are Other Contributing Health Factors?

Type II diabetes is often accompanied by high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.  Studies have shown that controlling high blood pressure with an ACE inhibitor drug, along with a cholesterol lowering statin drug, in small doses, can significantly reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.  In my case, my blood pressure is now normal, and my cholesterol was cut by one-third!  Diet and exercise alone could not do that!

What To Do If You Are Diagnosed With Diabetes?

Diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all disease.  Some people control their disease, as I do, with diet and exercise.  However this is not an easy choice.  I have a list of sugary foods that I dream about every day:  brownies, glazed donuts, chocolate chip cookies, to name a few; but I just don't eat them.  I've developed my own recipes, which help me feel less deprived, and I keep a positive attitude.

It is essential that you work with your own physician.  Eat sensibly and on time.  Take your medicine on time.  Test your glucose levels often.  I test mine up to six times a day, especially before and after exercise.  Check your feet for cuts, bruises, and abrasions.  Learn everything you can about your disease.  With your doctor, choose a program and stick to it.  Stay positive.  Celebrate life - your life!  You just may be surprised with a long and happy one!  



       



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