Reducing Diabetes Health Risks

Screen Shot 2015 05 23 at 7.41.16 PMBy Dr. Nina Radcliff

Today diabetes (a group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood), takes more lives than breast cancer and AIDS combined  claiming the life of one American every 3 minutes.  It is a leading cause of heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, vision loss, nerve damage and amputations. Diabetes is serious, common, costly, but, in most cases, can be manageable. 

There is much that we can do to defend ourselves and loved ones against the trials of this disease. We must remain vigilant to take action for prevention, early detection, treatment—accompanied by effective and proven lifestyle changes—in regards to diabetes, and its impact on your health. 

The National Diabetes Statistics Report is a periodic publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that provides updated statistics about diabetes in the United States. Their findings are alarming with more than 100 million U.S. (1 in 3) adults now living with diabetes or prediabetes, according to the recent report. It impacts men and women from virtually every cross-section of life. As well, Type 2 diabetes, which was once considered a disease mainly faced by adults is increasing amongst youth and becoming more common in children.

Small steps can make a big difference. It is important to know there are ways to reduce your risks.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Reducing Diabetes Health Risks

What is Diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus?

chronic, lifelong metabolic disorder where the body is unable to produce or appropriately respond to insulin (metabolism is defined as chemical processes that occur in living organisms to maintain life). Insulin is a hormone that is produced by our pancreas and functions as a “key” allowing glucose to enter our cells from our bloodstream and be broken down to provide energy. 

In addition, insulin signals our liver, muscle, and fat tissues to take up glucose and store it as glycogen (which can be broken down and utilized as fuel when glucose levels in the bloodstream drop)

Thus, diabetics are unable to properly access glucose from the bloodstream and, as a result, experience elevated blood glucose levels. This has led some to describe diabetes as “starvation amongst plenty.”

Are there different types of diabetes mellitus?

Yes. There are two basic classificationsType 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes and Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes which comprises the vast majority (ninety percent) of all cases. 

• Type 1 diabetes–the pancreas does not produce insulin. This is likely due to autoimmune destruction of insulin producing tissue and is often diagnosed in children and young adults. 
• Type 2 diabeteswhen the pancreas cannot make enough insulin or our cells do not properly respond to insulin, known as insulin resistance. It can result from genetics, as well as poor diet, physical inactivity, and being overweightIn fact, when it comes to Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes — prevention is a big deal. 
• Gestational diabetes—in most cases, it is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It occurs because the body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin to regulate blood sugars.  

What is prediabetes?

About 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and it is estimated that 86 million adults have prediabetesThis fact is sounding alarms nationwide as health care professionals increasingly address prediabetes before the condition evolves into Type 2 diabetes.  

With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are elevated compared to normal, however it is not quite high enough to meet the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis. People with prediabetes generally don’t have any symptoms. Thus, it is important to have regular checkups with a primary care physician and discuss risk factors. An early diagnosis before the body suffers ill effects of high blood sugar, is key.

Generally speaking with lifestyle changes, if you have risk factors for prediabetes, you can take steps to prevent it! And if you have prediabetes you may be able to return to a healthy blood glucose level and prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The goal is to maintain a healthy weight, make good food choices and stay active. 

What are symptoms of diabetes?

Insufficient fuel and elevated blood glucose levels can result in three major symptoms: polyphagia (increased hunger/appetite)polyuria (increased thirst and fluid intake)and polydipsia (frequent urination). Because glucose cannot enter our cells and be utilized as fuel, alarms sound off that we are low on fuel and need to eat. And, our kidneys work to remove excess glucose from the blood by excreting it in urine—resulting in frequent urination and increased thirst. 

What are complications of diabetes?

Chronically elevated blood glucose levels damage our blood vessels and also causes inflammation and a myriad of other molecular issues. This manifests in serious complications including: vision problems and blindness, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and failure, limb amputations, and impaired wound healing and immune system function. 

And they are more common than we may think. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults—affecting more than 4.1 million people. And, according to the CDC, in 2014 there were 108,000 adults that required a lower-extremity amputation and over 52,000 whose diabetes caused them to develop kidney failure. 

What lifestyle changes can I make to prevent diabetes, decrease my chances of converting from pre-diabetes to diabetes, or stave off complications of diabetes? 

According to The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), small steps can reap big rewards. Here are some proven and effective steps we can take: 

• Maintain a healthy weight—According to The Harvard School of Public Health, increased weight is the single most important cause of Type 2 diabetes–elevating your risk by seven times!! Science shows that excess fat promotes insulin resistance by our cells as well as signals our liver to inappropriately increase glucose production. This combination results in elevated blood sugars. The good news is that if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can help improve your blood sugar numbers. And the effects can be profound. In one study, pre-diabetics who achieved this lowered their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent! 
• Physical activity Research strongly supports that physical activity is a modifiable risk factor for Type 2 diabetes—it is a major component of prevention as well as blood glucose level control. When we are active and moving, our cells become more sensitive to insulin and, too, are better able to remove glucose from the bloodstream using a mechanism totally separate from insulin. And although recommendations vary on how much physical activity is ideal, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 5 or more days of the week is a great start. 

Also, moving throughout the day (bouts of activity) are importantSedentary activities—sitting at work, a classroom, browsing the internet, using social media, or watching television–can result in insulin resistance. So make sure to interrupt sitting time by standing up and stretching, swinging your arms, taking a short walk, or going up a flight of stairs.  

• Increase fiber consumptionResearch shows that diabetics who consume 50 grams of fiber a day are able to control their blood sugars better than those who ate far less. Fiber is abundant in fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grains, and legumes and passes from our mouth to our porcelain bowl intact. In doing so, it adds bulk and provides a sensation of feeling full, resulting in decreased food and calorie consumption. Additionally, fiber can “soak” up sugar in the intestines preventing it from being absorbed and raising blood sugar levels.

Knowledge is power. Talk to your primary care physician and make smart, healthy choices that are impactful to prevent and manage diabetes. As with most health issues, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications. In addition to following your doctors advice in regards to preliminary tests, medications and how frequent you should be testing and recording your blood sugars, taking small steps with changes to our lifestyle can have big rewards. Remain vigilant – and take action. Know this information – and pass this on!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.