Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about the link between mental illness and type 2 diabetes. It used to be that diabetes was a medical condition that people only had to worry about in the later years of their lives. But due to the growing number of people under forty who are diagnosed with the disease, that’s no longer the case.
Diabetes is a condition that can affect you and your body in a variety of ways at any age. Many people experience things like increased hunger, fatigue, a weakened immune system and cognitive decline if blood sugars aren’t well controlled.
The complications for diabetes can lead to frequent hospital stays due to high blood sugar, infections, kidney malfunction, or a heart related incident, just to name a few. The physical impairment from having diabetes is a lengthy list.
But besides the physical side effects, diabetes can also affect a person’s mental health. Depending on the age the person was when he or she was first diagnosed, having Type 2 diabetes can increase the chance of needing treatment for a mental illness.
Some mental illness problems linked to diabetes are mood disorders. Being diagnosed with the condition can cause irritability, mood swings, and depression. The disease has also been associated with more serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disease and schizophrenia.
Several factors weigh in on whether or not someone with diabetes is a high risk for the development of mental illness. Besides the age at which the person was diagnosed, the amount of time the person has had the disease, as well as how well they take care of themselves also figures into the risk for mental illness.
One theory is that getting diagnosed with the disease presents a sense of overwhelming decision making as well as having to learn a new normal way of life. Some people experience shock, grief, and denial, which is all part of the grieving process for having lost their sense of self.
This sometimes abrupt change in the way a person used to live can be extremely stressful, which in turn can cause an increase in appetite, and a spike in blood sugar.
As a way of trying to deal with the stress of juggling the demands diabetes places on the body, the patient may turn to food for comfort, gain more weight, which leads to even less glucose control.
The stress, eating, weight gain, and impaired immune system can lead to inflammation.
This can have an effect on the mental health of the person with diabetes. There is a root cause with diabetes behind mental conditions.
Insulin is imperative in the production of dopamine. When the brain and gut don’t create what’s considered normal levels of this neurotransmitter, it can lead to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Good control of diabetes is the first step to avoiding behavioral or mental health issues that are associated with the disease.
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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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