Dealing with and Preventing Diabetes
"You do have the power to make changes to your diet and your lifestyle that can completely prevent diabetes."
In part 3 of his weight and health series, Dr. Keller is talking about Diabetes. This is a condition that affects more than 30 million people in the United States, and has serious health effects. Check out the discussion today to learn what this condition is, what symptoms to look out for, what causes it, and most importantly, some strategies for preventing and managing diabetes.
- 01:17: What is Diabetes?
- 02:27: Symptoms of Diabetes
- 04:05: How does diabetes start?
- 08:36: Effects of Diabetes
- 11:11: Things that you can do
- 13:37: Wrap Up
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes was discovered or noticed long ago. In fact the name diabetes mellitus is an old Greek term which literally means sweet-tasting urine. Sugar is a diuretic when it’s in high concentrations in the blood. If you have a lot of sugar in your blood, you start to pee it out through your kidneys and that’s where you get a lot of the symptoms of diabetes. Basically, when you have a lot of blood sugar going on and you start urinating out a lot and peeing a lot, a lot of things start happening; you get very dehydrated, and you start to lose a lot of that sugar that should be going elsewhere in your urine. You also start to lose a lot of electrolytes with it.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Some of the things you might notice that could tip you off to the presence of diabetes include:
- Feeling thirsty all the time.
- Urinating too frequently
- Being hungry all the time, because you’re not getting the calories into your body the way you need to
- Feeling frequently fatigued
- Having blurry vision and difficulty thinking, depending on how high your sugar goes
A little earlier in the process, if you’re kind of pre-diabetic, you might actually notice some things like weight gain, which can occur when your insulin levels are still there keeping up with things but they’re causing a lot of fat storage, and you may have these sugar swings, like you’ll eat something, you’ll feel fine, and then five minutes later you’ll be hungry again.
One of the physical cues that you could actually even notice on yourself is skin changes. A particular one is called acanthosis nigricans. This is basically a skin condition that starts to cause a darkening around the neck or sometimes in the armpits. This is a sign that your insulin levels are going up and that you’re trending towards diabetes.
How does Diabetes Start?
It’s a little bit of a mystery. There are genetic components. If you’ve got a family member with diabetes, it’s possible you could have it too. It increases your risk. However, a lot of risk factors also have to do with diet. Specifically, as we start eating foods that aren’t that great for us that have a lot of sugars and processed carbs, maybe without a lot of nutrients, we start to gain weight. Insulin then stops doing the job it’s supposed to do.
Sugar is essential for life. We need it, and our bodies run on it and use it as fuel. Basically, everything that we do, our actions and our thoughts, they all need glucose to run. Luckily for us, you don’t need insulin to get sugar into the brain or into the heart. It can go freely in. But when it comes to the muscles that we’re engaging, you need a particular carrying device to get the sugar in. Insulin is that carrying device. When sugar does not get into the muscle and it starts to build up in the bloodstream, it causes a problem. The pancreas notices this and then starts making more and trying to push the sugar. This horde of insulin is terrible for the body. It creates inflammation, starts causing you to store more fat, and starts leading to other diseases.
So basically your pancreas is making a bunch of insulin which is causing you gain more fat, makes you feel more tired, and hungry. If you’re supposed to be exercising and eating right, having a condition where you feel tired and hungry and gaining more weight is going to feel terrible. So you get into this vicious cycle and then eventually your pancreas just gives up. The cells in the pancreas start making insulin and now your blood sugar starts to go way up because there is no way it’s getting into the muscle where it needs to go. When your blood sugar goes up that’s where diabetes starts.
Effects of Diabetes
Diabetes is technically defined as having a fasting blood sugar that’s over 100 or postprandial (after eating) blood sugar of over 126, or something called a hemoglobin A1c of 6.5 or above. Hemoglobin A1c is a measure of how much sugar has attached to a red blood cell. A red blood cell lives about three months and over that time, it’s going to have a bunch of sugar that starts attacking it just like sugar does in the body. The more sugar that attaches to that red blood cell, the more damage it incurs. So we can look at the blood cells and see how much sugar attaches to them over their brief life of three months, and we can get an estimate of how that high blood sugar is damaging everything else in your body. It comes down primarily to something called microvascular disease. The word “microvascular” refers to the mini blood vessels in your body.
These blood vessels exist in your heart, kidneys and retina. If you’ve got really high blood sugar, over time you’re doing to start damaging your heart and that can lead to a heart attack. That is why people with diabetes have a risk of a heart attack twice as high as someone without diabetes. It can also start to damage the blood vessels in your eyes, which is why a lot of diabetics end up with a retinal disease and they start to go blind. The kidneys are also affected in that those little blood vessels in your kidneys that are responsible for filtering out everything, all those toxins you have in your body, are ruined. If you start ruining your filter system with excess blood sugar, eventually your kidneys can’t do their work and that’s why a lot of diabetics end up on dialysis, which is not something that you want to do because then you’re hooked up to a machine for hours, several days per week. If you can avoid it, it’s absolutely something you want to try to do.
Things that you can do
Type 2 diabetes is a completely preventable disease. It’s all about lifestyle and diet. If you’re feeling kind of bogged down, depressed, and guilty about it, just know that you’re not alone, and even if it doesn’t feel like it, you do have the power to make changes to your diet and your lifestyle that can completely prevent diabetes.
The number one adjustment you can make is to reduce your sugar intake. This comes down to basically looking for foods that are high in fiber and high in good fats. It’s looking for foods that are high in protein, like nuts, and not the foods that are high in sugars, which are going to cause your insulin to go through the roof and cause you to gain weight.
If you find that you’re having trouble towing the line with some of the dietary things, try to start with small steps. Reduce the amount of sugar calories that you have in your diet. Instead of adopting a restrictive, expensive, or time-consuming diet, you can start by cutting out sugary drinks and then start to get more fiber, salads, veggies and proteins. Try to get other macronutrients into your diet so you’re not relying just on the sugar as your source of calories. If you can do that, then you’re much more likely to prevent diabetes and you can prevent all of the damage that happens when you start to get those high blood sugar levels and those high insulin levels.
Diabetes affects a lot of people in the US. It’s totally preventable, and you might notice it if you start having frequent urination, frequent thirst, and a lot of fatigue. So if you’re having any of those symptoms, rush to your doctor and have them do the test that they can do. There are blood tests that can tell you if your blood sugar is too high, or see if you’re spilling sugar into your urine.
Then you can start making lifestyle changes to reduce excess weight, as well as the number of sugar calories that you’re getting in your body. Often, a doctor may need to prescribe you a medication. There are plenty of medications out there that can start to help improve your metabolic profile, and reduce the stress on your pancreas so that it can kind of rest.
So talk to your doctor about it. If you’re out there, make those lifestyle changes to get yourself on the right track and don’t lose hope. Although this is something that although it affects a lot of people, you don’t have to be at its mercy.