Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about diabetes and your feet. Diabetes affects over 68 million people in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and one in 10 Americans have some form of the disease.
As a chronic disease, the symptoms of diabetes are not only physical, but psychological as well. Over time, the signs and symptoms of diabetes can lead to many other conditions, including nerve damage, joint pain, heart and kidney disease. In some cases, the symptoms can even be fatal.
Diabetics experience a wide range of problems associated with the disease all over their bodies, but some parts of the body are more severely affected than others. Namely, the feet are a major source of danger for almost all diabetics, both type 1 and 2.
Diabetes can be a life-changing disease, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. Many type 1 and type 2 diabetics suffer from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a condition that typically causes nerve damage in the feet and legs, but can also occur in other parts of the body, such as hands, your heart, and even your digestive system.
This common nerve-based affliction associated with diabetes has a general term known as neuropathy (we’ll say neuropathy instead of diabetic peripheral neuropathy for simplicity’s sake). Neuropathy is the damaging of the nerves, and while this happens all over your body, it seems to affect the feet of diabetics worse than it does other parts of the body.
When your feet and legs are hit with neuropathy, a wide variety of problems arise. First, you might lose feeling in your feet. This might not sound all that serious at first, apart from being an inconvenience, but it’s very serious.
If you sustain any injuries to your feet and arent able to feel it, they can get infected and become very hard to treat if you don’t notice it. Due to the nerve damage, its important that diabetics check on their feet frequently to make sure there are no unnoticed cuts, scrapes, or punctures, because these can all lead to nasty wounds when infected.
Slow Wound Healing
Even if these wounds are noticed, another danger lurks with diabetes, which is significantly slower wound healing. Due to the high levels of sugar in the blood, your body doesn’t have the same kind of blood flow that it would in a non-diabetic, which makes wounds heal slower.
This means that even if you catch a cut in time, you have to keep it clean and make sure it doesn’t get infected, because it will take some time for that cut to go away. You should also keep track of anything like blisters, sores, or anything that can cause the inside of your foot to be exposed.
Diabetic Foot Care
Make sure you take good care of your feet by cleaning them regularly, to avoid any chance of infection. Also be sure to get a good, comfortable pair of shoes. Poorly fitted shoes or shoes that are in bad condition can easily lead to blisters, and if you wear the same shoes a lot, be sure to wash them every now and then so they’re not cultivating bacteria. Also, be sure to keep your appointments with your podiatrist/diabetic foot specialist.
If at any point you get a severe cut or one that isn’t healing properly, immediately contact your doctor so they can help you out. They have experience helping wounds heal faster and in a more sanitary environment.
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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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