Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about getting your eyes checked after a diabetes diagnosis. One of the lesser known side effects of diabetes is the damage it can cause to your eyes. This might go unnoticed at first or dismissed as a result of just getting older, because type 2 diabetes typically begins in your 40s.
Diabetes is a condition that affects about 24 million people in the United States. In addition to causing high blood sugar levels, it can lead to other health problems such as kidney disease, nerve damage, and vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes, and it occurs when the blood vessels in the eye become damaged and leak fluid. This causes blood to build up under the retina of the eye, which eventually destroys it. Current research shows that 90 percent of people with diabetes suffer from diabetic retinopathy.
Seeing and/or reading symptoms of diabetes in your eyes can be scary, especially if you’re not sure where the problem is coming from. Many people don’t even realize they have diabetes until they notice the damage the disease is doing to their eyes.
But instead of dismissing it, get your eyes checked. Diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are too high due to a lack of insulin. Due to the high levels of sugar in your blood, a lot of little things in your body can be damaged from the blood that runs through them.
This is what causes the damage in your eye as a diabetic. The back wall of your eyes are lined with a tissue referred to as the retina, which is the light-sensitive portion of your eye.
Any damage to your retina can cause severe sight loss, as that portion of your eye may no longer be able to sense light. Temporary retina burns can be brought on by looking at lights, but more permanent damage is brought on by diabetes.
Many tiny blood vessels run through your retina in order to keep the tissue healthy and functioning. As a result of diabetes, these miniscule blood vessels can be damaged by the excess sugar, leading to a loss of vision.
This condition is known as diabetic retinopathy. Some of the more common symptoms of this condition are blurred vision and little floaters or “spots” that don’t quite look right. Retinopathy isn’t the only eye damage you’re at risk for as a diabetic.
Diabetics can be up to five times more likely than the average person to develop cataracts. A cataract is a clouded lens in your eye. A regular lens is vital for sight, because it allows you to focus on different things, but it can get clouded.
The symptoms of cataracts are fairly simple, you’ll begin to have more clouded and blurry vision. As it gets worse, you may even be able to see the clouded lens in your eye. Luckily, cataracts are easily fixed with cataract surgery.
These conditions apply for all forms of diabetes. If any of these conditions go unchecked, they can cause permanent and severe vision loss. If you have diabetes, it’s recommended that you get your eyes checked at least annually, so that you can catch any of these early signs before they develop any further.
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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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