The Science Behind Diabetes
The digestive system converts carbohydrates into glucose that enters the blood stream. Cells absorb the glucose with the help of a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas. Beta cells in the pancreas make insulin and release it into the blood stream. If these beta cells don’t produce enough insulin, glucose will build up in the bloodstream leading to diabetes.
An abundance of glucose in the blood, also called high blood sugar, damages blood vessels and nerves. This can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and amputations. Although it is uncertain what causes diabetes, science believes it is the interaction of genetics and environment.
The Three Types of Diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes is often called juvenile diabetes because it usually appears in children. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells that make insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when fat, muscle and liver cells do not use insulin efficiently. It occurs when the body can no longer produce enough insulin to be used effectively. It develops most often in middle-aged adults who are overweight.
- Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Hormones produced by the placenta lead to insulin resistance. Typically, the hormones return to normal after birth and gestational diabetes goes away.
Type 2 diabetes, is the most common and easiest to prevent. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese, getting too little exercise, smoking, having high stress and not getting enough sleep.
4 Ways to Lower Your Risk
Knowing the risk factors will help you know what to do to lower the risk of diabetes. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
- Quit smoking. Smokers are much more likely to get diabetes. Nicotine can increase blood sugar
- Lose weight. Weight loss of 10 pounds or more can help lower blood sugar and reduce blood pressure.
- Increase activity. When muscles move, they use insulin. This insulin use keeps the blood glucose levels regulated. Twenty minutes of brisk walking a day will drastically reduce the risk of diabetes.
- Eat well. Eat whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fish. Avoid processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates, added sugar and trans fats. Reduce your consumption of red meat.
Type 2 diabetes is a widespread and potentially lethal chronic disorder. It is also mostly preventable through good health habits. Evaluate the risk factors and talk to a doctor if you are concerned about diabetes.
About the Author
Penny Crumpton, RDN, CDE is a registered dietician at the Nutrition & Diabetes Management Center – Reidsville