November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Today we’ll talk about what it is and I’ll even give you tips on preventive and integrative therapies that may help improve your current condition. This is information is for educational purposes only. This is not official medical advice. So, please do not stop any medications or therapies prescribed by your doctor. Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your current healthcare regimen.
What is diabetes?
Having diabetes means glucose (sugar) levels in your blood are too high. Your body depends on glucose for energy. When you eat, most of the food turns into glucose. Your blood carries the glucose to other parts of your body. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble turning glucose into energy. Instead of being used by your body, the glucose builds up in your blood and your body is starved of energy. This can damage the body. Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) condition.
Diabetes (“dy-ah-BEE-teez”) is a leading cause of disability and death in the US. Diabetes increases the risk of serious health problems like:
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage — which can lead to having a toe, foot, or leg removed
- Kidney failure
What types of diabetes are there?
Type 1 diabetes is caused by a problem with the immune system (the system that helps fight infection). Right now, there’s no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Gestational (“jes-TAY-shon-al”) diabetes is a type of diabetes that some women develop during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of health problems for you and your baby. For example, gestational diabetes can make it more likely that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. You are more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you are overweight and inactive — or if you have prediabetes. Having prediabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop over several years. Many people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms for a long time without noticing them. Some people may never notice any symptoms. Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Being very thirsty or hungry
- Feeling tired for no reason
- Urinating (going to the bathroom) more than usual
- Losing weight for no reason
- Having cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
- Having trouble seeing (blurry vision)
- Losing feeling or having tingling in your hands or feet
Because symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be hard to spot, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you notice any symptoms, ask your doctor about getting tested.
The good news is that you can do a lot to prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes, including:
- Watching your weight
- Eating healthy
- Staying active
You may be at risk for type 2 diabetes if you:
- Are over age 40
- Are overweight or obese
- Have a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Are African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
- Have had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (when a woman’s body produces more male hormones than normal)
- Have high blood pressure or high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Are physically active less than 3 times a week
- Have prediabetes
What is prediabetes?
If you have prediabetes, the glucose levels in your blood are higher than normal – but not high enough to mean you have type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, like heart disease and stroke. The good news about prediabetes is that healthy changes, like losing weight and getting enough physical activity, can prevent or delay it from becoming type 2 diabetes.
Talk to a doctor about your risk for type 2 diabetes and find out if you need to get tested for diabetes. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, ask your doctor about getting tested. People over age 40 who are overweight need to get tested. Your doctor can tell you how often to get tested and your doctor may also recommend you get tested if you are younger than age 40 and at risk for other health reasons, like having high blood pressure or having a family member with type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind that the diabetes test can also show if you have prediabetes.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover:
- Diabetes screening for adults with high blood pressure
- Diet counseling for adults at higher risk for chronic disease
- Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan.
Eating healthy can help you control your weight – and help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. If you have any type of diabetes, eating healthy can also help manage your condition. I always stress the importance of eating a whole foods, plant based diet. Avoid processed foods and and anything in a package. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, added sugars, and salt.
Getting active can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help manage any type of diabetes. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking. You have to make sure you get that heart rate up. Your doctor can help you choose the best activities for you.
Watch your weight
If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, losing weight by eating healthy and getting active can help lower your risk. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. You can use a notebook, journal, or smart phone to keep a record of:
- Your weight
- All the meals and snacks you eat each day
- The number of calories and grams of fat in your food
- How many minutes of physical activity you do each day
- Your weight each time you weigh yourself
Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked
Starting at age 18, get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you are over age 40 or if you are at higher risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked once a year. It’s important to get your cholesterol checked at least every 4 to 6 years. Some people will need to get it checked more or less often. If your cholesterol is high, talk with your doctor about steps you can take to lower it.
Integrative Therapy Tips
Fish and other marine species, as well as walnuts, flax, and other grains, are great sources of Omega 3. Although they do not affect glycemic control, these fats have antiinflammatory, antithrombotic, and antiarrhythmic effects that appear to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. For this reason, they offer important benefits to patients with type 2 DM.
Another integrative therapy tip is to make sure you take Vitamin D if you are deficient in Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a growing list of serious chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disorders, neurologic diseases, allergic and autoimmune problems, and several cancers. And from what we already know, Vitamin D deficiency increases mortality risk in type 2 DM.
One small study reported that improvements in vitamin D levels were associated with reductions in HbA1c, which is a marker of your blood sugar levels, in patients with type 1 DM.Another study reported that large single doses given to patients with type 2 DM significantly reduced blood pressure, and another trial reported improvements in the the inner lining of the heart and blood vessels. Vitamin D trials have reported improvements in chronic pain, blood pressure, pregnancy outcomes, and autoimmune disease risk.
Guidelines for vitamin D supplementation vary widely, so make sure you talk to your doctor about getting your levels checked, and talk about taking the correct dose for your condition.
That’s all I have for you for today. I am Dr. Nicolle Martin, your double board-certified Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine physician. I help busy professionals use preventive and integrative therapies to not only improve symptoms of many illnesses, but to cure some illnesses and truly SAVE LIVES. Through my programs, books, and seminars, you will get healthy and stay healthy! You can find me on all social media platforms at www.DrNicolleMD.com.
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