5 Things You Should Know About Diabetes
Diabetes affects more than 29 million Americans so chances are, this disease impacts your aunt, co-worker, friend, neighbor or someone else you know. Despite its prevalence, there are probably a few things you don’t know about diabetes – and they may even surprise you.
Here are five facts about diabetes:
Fact #1: Diabetes is not caused by eating sugar.
A diet full of soda and sugary foods such as cereal, processed food and snacks puts you at risk for many things, but eating too much sugar is not the main culprit for diabetes. It’s much more complicated.
Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that develops usually at a young age when your pancreas basically shuts down and stops producing insulin needed to regulate glucose from the food you eat. There’s little you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes (although family history plays a part), and managing it requires daily insulin shots and carbohydrate counting as well as physical activity and meal planning to regulate your blood glucose levels.
Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, occurs when the pancreas is still producing insulin, a hormone that brings glucose into your body’s cells to be used as energy, but over time, it isn’t able to make enough to maintain normal blood glucose levels or the body is not responsive to the amount of insulin it produces (insulin resistance). Obesity, being overweight and family history are the primary risk factors. To keep things in check, oral medications and insulin may be prescribed, and diet and exercise play a big role. Very often, people are first diagnosed with “prediabetes” as a red flag they are at high risk for developing type 2.
Fact #2: People with diabetes can enjoy sweets.
When planned as part of a meal, small amounts of sugar can be substituted for other carbs, like skipping an extra piece of bread or eating half a cup of pasta/rice or potatoes. Swapping out real sugar with sweeteners or choosing “diabetic” food doesn’t eliminate carbs, and “dietetic” food contain sugar alcohol, which may increase blood glucose levels and have a laxative effect.
Cocktails, wine and beer also rock the carb counter. These beverages can be enjoyed in moderation, but need to be accounted for in meal planning as alcohol can raise, and lower, blood sugar levels. Be sure to talk to your diabetes educator for advice.
Fact #3: Gestational diabetes does not mean your baby will have diabetes.
About nine percent of pregnant women will become insulin resistant during pregnancy and develop gestational diabetes. If you’ve never had diabetes before, you can develop gestational diabetes later on during your pregnancy because your pancreas is working overtime to produce insulin, but not enough.
It’s not your fault, or your baby’s fault, if you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. And, it doesn’t mean your baby will have diabetes. However, it is really important to work with your obstetrician to manage your condition; otherwise, it can cause your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin, which is stored as “fat”, putting your baby at risk for large birth weights, low blood glucose levels and breathing problems, as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. In most cases, the diabetes goes away when the pregnancy ends.
Fact #4: Diabetes causes a lot of emotions.
It’s common for people with diabetes to feel angry, depressed or anxious. After all, it can be stressful to test your blood glucose several times a day, monitor what you eat and give yourself insulin shots or take medication – every day. It’s easy to feel different and deny diabetes exists, and it’s easy to feel out of control, especially if your blood glucose levels aren’t where you’d like them to be. As an outsider looking in, remember these are natural emotions that can become barriers to good self-care, so be mindful by learning as much as you can and offer support and encouragement.
Fact #5: Diabetes takes time and adjustment.
If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed with diabetes, it can take time to adjust. After all, diabetes requires a lot of finger pricking, blood testing, shot-giving and self-monitoring to reach and maintain normal blood sugar levels. And it takes patience to fine-tune your blood glucose. Many factors affect your blood glucose levels including what you eat, how much you eat, how much you exercise, what time you take your medications or insulin, stress, and sickness. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to long-term complications, such as kidney failure, heart disease, blindness, and neuropathy. There is a lot to managing diabetes, but healthy management of diabetes can lead to a lifetime of benefits.