You’ve likely heard about diabetes, particularly type 2. There’s an estimated 27 million people in the United States with type 2, according to WebMD. Another 86 million people have prediabetes, a condition in which their blood glucose levels are not too high but yet high enough to be classified as diabetes.
Diabetes can cause a whole host of symptoms, including frequent urination, extreme thirst, numbness or tingling in the limbs, irritability and exhaustion. The high blood sugar levels this condition causes can damage or cause issues with many areas of your body, such as your kidneys, eyes, blood and heart vessels and your nervous system.
With such serious consequences on the line, it only makes sense to be proactive when it comes to diabetes type 2. Here are three things you need to know about the condition and what you can do to lessen your risk.
1. What Causes Diabetes?
Your cells take glucose from food and convert it into energy, but this can only be done with a hormone your pancreas makes known as insulin. A person with type 2 diabetes can make insulin, but their cells are no longer using it the way they should, which is an effect known as insulin resistance. To compensate, the pancreas starts making more insulin at first, but once it’s unable to keep up, the glucose starts building up in your blood instead.
Generally, a number of things together contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, including:
• Your genes: Research has proven that different parts of your DNA directly impact how your body makes insulin.
• Extra pounds: Being obese or overweight can spark insulin resistance, particularly in those who carry more weight around their midsection.
• Excessive glucose from the liver: When your blood sugar is lower, your liver creates and sends out glucose. After a meal, blood sugar levels rise, and this usually slows the liver down and makes it store glucose for future use. But in some people, the liver doesn’t do that. Instead, it keeps creating and releasing sugar.
• Poor cell communication: Sometimes, your cells will send incorrect signals or garble messages that are received. If this begins to affect how your cells create and use glucose or insulin, the chain reaction can result in diabetes.
• Bad beta cells: When the cells that make insulin transit the wrong insulin amount at the wrong times, your blood sugar level is thrown off. High glucose levels in the blood can also damage these cells.
• Metabolic syndrome: Insulin-resistant people often suffer from other conditions, including more fat around the waist, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
2. How Can I Reduce My Risk?
If you have a relative who has type 2 diabetes or have any of the other risk factors, it’s important you take steps right now to help reduce your chances of developing the condition.
Start with kicking smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person who smokes is anywhere from 30 to 40 percent more likely to end up with type 2 diabetes than a person who doesn’t smoke. Smoking can raise blood sugar and damage your blood vessels and heart. Use the free resource, Smokefree.gov to research plans if you need some help to kick the habit. Tell family members and friends what you’re planning to do so they can be supportive and help you reach your goal.
Drop some extra pounds. The Obesity Society reports that overweight people have a tougher time controlling their blood sugar levels, and around 90 to 95 percent of all people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Check your BMI by using free resources, such as those found on the CDC’s official website, if you’re not sure where your weight stands.
Try to increase your physical movement all the way around; for example, you could skip the elevator and take the stairs at work, and park further away from your destinations so you walk more. The Obesity Action Coalition also recommends getting exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five days each week. If you have a busy schedule, you may need to shuffle things around in order to fit exercise in, but remember that aside from lowering your diabetes risk, regular exercise can help your body improve in a number ways and ward off other conditions.
With your diet, start cutting out processed meats and sugars and focus on healthy foods. Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce and spinach, will help you stay fuller. Instead of red meat, aim for chicken, turkey and fresh fish. Try to avoid processed items and pre-packed snack goods.
When it comes to exercising, it’s often easier with the help and support of your family and friends. Find an exercise buddy to help keep you motivated. If other members of your family are overweight, try to encourage them to join you. For example, you could all start taking family walks together after dinner, or you could plan weekly runs with friends who also want to get into better shape.
To eat right, start with some research. Learn how to plan and make meals that are both healthy and well within your food budget ahead of time so you’re not tempted to buy cheaper, less nutritious foods. There are a lot of free resources and forums you can check for information to help you make tasty and affordable healthy menu choices for your home. If produce cost is an issue, check your area for local farmers’ markets, as the fruits and vegetables there are usually less expensive than those found in a grocery store.
3. Should I Be Screened?
The American Diabetes Association recommends that you should be screened for diabetes if any of the below applies to you:
• You have relatives who have diabetes
• You’re considered overweight, with a BMI of more than 25
• You’ve got high blood pressure or high cholesterol
• You suffer from poly-cystic ovary syndrome
• You’re physically inactive
• You’re part of a race or ethnic group that has a higher documented risk for diabetes, such as Asian-Americans and Native Americans.
If you have any risk factors for diabetes and/or the points above apply to you, speak to your doctor about testing for diabetes. The general test used is a fasting blood glucose test in which your blood sugar levels are measured against the normal glucose range for a fasting person. But if you have significant risk factors, your doctor may also consider an oral glucose tolerance test, which is used to check how your body is using glucose.
Uncontrolled diabetes, per WebMD, can lead to complications such as heart disease, a loss of your foot, eye problems, kidney disease, nerve damage and dental issues. With the consequences being so serious, it’s important that you try to lower your risk as much as possible and get tested if you’re at risk of developing this condition.