What is Diabetes?
Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a chronic disease in which an individual cannot regulate their blood glucose in the normal way. There are two types of this disease: Diabetes Mellitus 1 (DM 1) and Diabetes Mellitus 2 (DM 2). In both cases the disease is characterized by elevated blood glucose. The main difference is the “why” in which blood sugars rise. In DM 1, there is an inadequate amount of insulin for the body’s needs. In DM 2, the insulin is there but resisted by the cells.
Let’s dig in a little more to this increasingly-common disease.
Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes
The signs and symptoms are the same for DM 1 and DM 2 except for one sign… the typical body size. Usually (but not always), individuals diagnosed with DM1 are underweight or within what is considered a “healthy body weight range”. Individuals diagnosed with DM 2 are typically, but not always, overweight or obese. Beyond this difference, here are a few common signs/symptoms:
- Abnormally high glucose in the blood
- Excessive urination (polyuria)
- Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
- Excessive hunger/eating (polyphagia)
- Glucose in the urine (glucosuria)
- Frequent infections of the skin, gums, vagina, or urinary tract
- Vision disturbances or blurred vision
- Pain in the legs, feet, or fingers
- Slow healing cuts and bruises
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (DM 1)
DM 1 accounts for about 10% of diagnosed cases. It is usually diagnosed before the age of 18 and it develops most commonly due to either genetic reasons or post-viral infection in which the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells. There are a few other causation factors as well. For a person with DM 1, their pancreas makes very little or no insulin and they need it from an external source. At first, they will have insulin injections, but over time, many people with DM 1 will use an insulin pump. The pump is set to release a certain amount of insulin throughout the day, and then the individual can add more (a “bolus dose”) if they eat extra carbohydrates or reduce the amount if they are more active. The pump can be removed for about thirty minutes per day, but for the most part it needs to remain on the individual.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (DM 2)
DM 2 accounts for 90% of diagnosed cases. For a person with DM 2, their pancreas makes plenty of insulin; however, the body cells resist the insulin’s actions. Blood glucose and blood insulin levels then rise. In many cases, a simple weight loss of ten pounds can make a difference in reducing insulin resistance and very often a 10% weight loss will greatly reduce the need for medication. Physicians often recommend that patients try to change their lifestyle habits (especially diet and exercise) before starting a medication regime. Most people diagnosed with DM 2 are adults; however, more and more children and adolescents are being diagnosed with this disease and childhood obesity rates rise.
Other Types of Diabetes
There are two other areas that are important to discuss when talking about Diabetes Mellitus.
The first is Gestational Diabetes (GD). This is a very different form of the disease in that it only occurs in pregnant women and once the baby and placenta are delivered, the diabetes is also gone. Women who have GD may be at higher risk for developing DM 2 later in life, and their babies have risk of low blood sugars at birth. With careful monitoring, both risks can be overcome.
You may have also heard of Impaired Glucose Tolerance. This refers to a time when blood sugars are regularly in the “high normal” range. If you are told you have impaired glucose tolerance, it is time to make a few lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing full DM 2.
Reducing Risk of Developing Diabetes
So, how then can you reduce your risk of developing DM 2?
Here are three key dietary steps and two recipes to help:
- Portion control. All foods fit…it is about how much and how often!
- Limit added sugars and saturated fats. Foods high in simple sugar and saturated fat are more likely to lead to weight gain. In addition, saturated fat has a negative effect on insulin response.
- Ensure adequate fiber intake. Fiber helps you stay fuller longer which is important for blood sugar balance and maintaining a healthy body weight. Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Here are two amazing recipes that are rich in fiber, low in saturated fat, and full of flavor!
Engage in thirty minutes of physical activity every day. Keeping your body moving improves both physical and mental health in more ways that we even realize! Specifically, in relationship to diabetes, it heightens our insulin response.
Disclaimer: This is not meant to be medical advice. If you have personal questions about reducing your risk or managing diabetes, please speak with your family physician, nurse practitioner, or registered dietitian.