The Truth About Diabetes
You probably know someone suffering from diabetes, or you may have it yourself. Type 2 diabetes is rising at an unprecedented rate in the United States and around the world. An estimated 17 million people in the United States are thought to have the condition, though approximately one-third are not aware of it. The number of cases in the United States has increased 49 percent since 1990. However, there is no need to fear a diagnosis. If you do have diabetes, there are ways to manage it. If you don't have it, you may be able to prevent its onset through conscious lifestyle choices. In fact, clinical research shows diet and lifestyle modification is more effective than early pharmaceutical management for prevention of type 2 diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a bodily condition where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or cannot utilize insulin properly. Insulin is important because it converts glucose from food into usable energy. When insulin is not doing its job, blood sugar levels rise. If untreated, diabetes can eventually take a toll on the eyes, kidneys, and nerves and can also predispose you to cardiovascular disease.
In type 1 diabetes, the body stops producing insulin altogether. People with type 1 diabetes require lifelong daily insulin injections in order to survive. Previously called juvenile-onset diabetes (since it is usually diagnosed in childhood or before age 30), this type affects about 5-10 percent of diabetics. The terms insulin-dependent and juvenile-onset are no longer used because type 2 diabetes can also require insulin and is being discovered more frequently in adolescents. Some symptoms of untreated type I diabetes include unexplained weight loss, frequent urination, constantly feeling hungry and very thirsty, trouble seeing and/or frequent fatigue.
The other major type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. This form of the disease is much more common (comprising 90-95 percent of diabetes cases) and is caused by the body's inability to produce enough insulin or the inability to utilize the insulin that is produced. The symptoms for untreated type 2 may include headaches, blurry vision, thirst, frequent urination, dry, itchy skin, frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands or feet, and recurring skin, gum or bladder infections. You may also have no symptoms.
What causes type 2 diabetes?
Like any disease condition, the causes of type 2 diabetes are multi-factorial and individual. Lifestyle and genetics seem to have the greatest impact on risk. African American, Asian American, Latin American, Native American and Pacific Islanders seem to have the greatest risk. Some evidence suggests this increased risk may be the result of converting to a Western diet. Epidemiological evidence suggests that frequency of exercise, even mild to moderate intensity exercise, has a direct effect on risk of type 2 diabetes. Also, high dietary intake of fruit, vegetables, legume, dietary fiber and antioxidant vitamins have also been correlated with decreased risk. Being overweight or obese also directly impacts the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Although not all obese people are diabetic and not all diabetics are obese, approximately 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are obese.
Screening for type 2 diabetes is recommended in all adults over age 45, especially if you are overweight. Testing should begin at a younger age if any of the following are true: you have been inactive for many years, you have a first-degree relative who has diabetes, you are a member of a high-risk population, you have history of elevated blood glucose while pregnant, you have elevated blood pressure, or you have history of blood lipid abnormalities, i.e. high triglycerides or low HDLs. Children should be screened if they are in the 85th percentile for their height and weight and two of the following apply: they have a family history of diabetes, they are members of a high-risk population, and/or they have other cardiovascular concerns or other signs of insulin resistance. The symptoms for untreated type 2 diabetes may include headaches, blurry vision, thirst, frequent urination, dry, itchy skin, frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands or feet, and recurring skin, gum or bladder infections. You also may not have symptoms.
Naturopathic physicians are also trained as primary care providers and can aid in navigating the complexities of the disease condition and can provide the coordination of medical care required in such a complex disease condition. Similarly, a registered dietitian and acupuncturist can complement a diabetes management team very well by continuing to guide and educate patients toward optimal health.
Bastyr Center for Natural Health has developed a specific service just for diabetic conditions, called the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Program. This program is designed to help you be as healthy as you can be by providing education about your condition, comprehensive lifestyle guidance, and recommendations for supplemental nutritional and botanical treatments.
In summary, it is wise to minimize the risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes. If you are concerned about preventing or controlling diabetes, you should discuss it with a health care provider.
Contributing Writers: Sydney Maupin, Staff Writer; Christian Dodge, ND
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