Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about how hyperglycemia impairs a diabetic’s immune system. Hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar, is a condition often found in diabetics that can have a number of adverse effects.
Diabetes impairs your bodys ability to naturally produce enough insulin, which is what handles sugar in your blood and breaks it down as needed.
Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.
If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
However, if you have low insulin, or insulin resistance, your body won’t be able to process it and youll have excessive blood sugar, leading to hyperglycemia. You may have heard before that diabetics are at a much higher risk of infections, because their immune systems are compromised.
However, very few people know why exactly your body is more prone to disease as a diabetic. To understand why, you must first have a clear understanding of the way your immune system works.
While your immune system is very complex and widespread, you could say, to put it simply, there are two main components of your body that keep you safe from infections: the cells that signal that there’s a disease, and the cells that remove the disease.
When a disease enters your body, it releases a signal in the bloodstream that signals that it needs help. When an immune cell comes by and picks up that signal, it then moves to the site of the infection and consumes it, breaking the disease down and disposing of it elsewhere to be filtered out of your body.
However, this process is very delicate. The chemical signals need to reach the cells, and the cells must be able to move to the site of the infection, and then they must be able to reach the actual disease cells.
All of these can be impaired by high blood sugar. First, the excess sugar may block the signals from reaching the immune cell in the first place, causing it to pass by without thinking that anything is wrong.
If it does pick up the signal, it needs to be able to move to the infected area without being blocked. Again, the excessive sugar can impede it from moving to the right spot. And finally, even if it does make it to the infected area, it may be blocked there by sugar anyway, leaving it unable to deal with the infection.
By keeping your blood sugar in check, you’re able to prevent the obstruction of your immune system, allowing it to easily sort out the virus in your body. With high blood sugar, any diseases that may not have taken hold before will have a much better chance at causing damage.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy. But I always tell my patients that conventional medications may be appropriate at this time to prevent catastrophic illness, but over time, you can work to make the necessary lifestyle changes to possibly reduce and/or eliminate medications. Please remember to always consult your physician for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions whatsoever.
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices).
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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