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Healthy Living: National Diabetes Month


November is American Diabetes Month, and last week in this space, my colleague, pharmacist Dr. Charlotte Weller, shared some important news about health care for those who are living with diabetes. But as a nutrition specialist, I see that many people are very unfamiliar with this all-too-common disease, and are not aware of the steps they can take to make sure they do not develop it. 

Because many cases of diabetes can be prevented with proper nutrition and exercise, I think it’s important to review the basic facts of this disease, with help from information from the Centers for Disease Control. 

Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes affects 8.3% of the U.S. population, resulting in 2.8 million Americans suffering from diabetes. There are 3 types of diabetes; type 1 (5% of cases), type2 (90% to 95% of cases) and gestational. 

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, occurs when the only cells in the body that produce insulin, pancreatic beta cells, are destroyed. This can be due to an autoimmune disorder, genetics or environment. Insulin is required to help regulate the level of glucose in your blood. Insulin transport glucose into the cells through special receptors. Once the beta cells are destroyed, your body is unable to produce insulin resulting in glucose remaining in the blood. People suffering from type 1 diabetes receive insulin from an insulin pump or insulin injections. Type 1 diabetes is not currently preventable, but can be controlled. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not use insulin properly. This can occur due to a number of factors, including age, lifestyle, family history, and race/ethnicity. Changes in lifestyle, like eating healthy and regularly exercising, can delay and even prevent type 2 diabetes.  A clinical study, the Diabetes Prevention Program, monitored a group of people who had a high risk of developing diabetes. After three years, the participants who increased their amount of exercise and lost weight were 58% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. 

Gestational diabetes occurs among 2% to 10% of pregnant women. Five to ten percent of women with gestational diabetes were found to be diabetic after the pregnancy.

How do you know? Type 2 diabetes, especially, sometimes goes undetected for too long because the early symptoms can be vague or may seem minor. Symptoms may include increased thirst, hunger and urination; fatigue; blurred vision; tingling in the feet; and unexplained weight loss. If you are over the age of 45, the American Diabetes Association suggests you have regular screenings for pre-diabetes and diabetes. Additionally, regular screenings are also suggested for those who are under 45 but who are overweight or obese and also have other risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes. 

Help educate the ones you love. 

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