Diet and Nutrition

Diabetes: The Top 10 Questions

  • Diabetes is caused when the body of an individual does not produce insulin or produces very little insulin (type 1 diabetes), or if the body does not respond to the effects of insulin (type 2 diabetes).
  • Bad dietary habits such as eating a lot of processed foods and drinking a lot of soda that is high in sugar content can increase the risk of diabetes.
  • If you are at risk for diabetes, are obese, or have a family history of diabetes, you must make a few changes in your lifestyle to avoid serious health complications associated with diabetes.

Is diabetes a disease?

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that is diagnosed when an individual has high blood sugar levels in the body. It has been found that diabetes affects more than 25 million people in the United States alone. Diabetes is caused when the body of an individual does not produce insulin or produces very little insulin (type 1 diabetes), or if the body does not respond to the effects of insulin (type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body and allows the body to utilize that sugar for energy.

Since diabetes is not contagious and doesn’t have any permanent cure like most other diseases do, it is also sometimes referred to as a long-term condition. Although there is no cure for diabetes, you can manage or even prevent it by following the treatment plan as suggested by your doctor. Your doctor will set a goal to keep your blood sugar level in check and then monitor you from time to time to observe the improvement. To minimize the effects of diabetes, a combination of exercise, medications, diet, and insulin therapy is suggested to manage your blood sugar.

Is diabetes genetic?

It has been found that genetics can be a major contributor to diabetes, but it isn’t the only factor. Diabetes often runs in families, but there could be environmental triggers too, such as a bad lifestyle and climate. People who are significantly overweight are also prone to this condition. Talking about the genetics, diabetes isn’t a disease inherited in a simple pattern. This means that if you have diabetes, your child will not necessarily develop it too. However, the chances are still there. Simply said, if one of the parents suffers from diabetes, the child’s chances of getting it become considerably higher.

Although both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes depend on environmental factors, Type 2 diabetes is more linked to family history than type 1. It has also been found that if a parent has type 2 diabetes, the risk of that parent's child getting diabetes is 1 in 7 if the parent was diagnosed before the age of 50. If the parent was diagnosed after that age, the chances are 1 in 13. Some scientists also believe that if it’s the mother who has type 2 diabetes, the child’s risk of getting it is greater. If both parents have type 2 diabetes, the risk is about 1 in 2.

What kinds of food cause diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels of an individual become higher than normal. There is no single food that causes this condition, but of course, bad dietary habits such as eating a lot of processed foods and drinking a lot of soda that is high in sugar content can increase the risk of diabetes. The following are the four food choices that can cause your blood sugar levels to go up:

  • Highly-Processed Carbohydrates

Highly-refined carbohydrates that are high in sugar content but lack essential nutrients such as bran, fiber, vitamins, and minerals increase the risk of diabetes. Because these foods are easily digested, they can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Over time, a diet high in processed carbohydrates can lead to type-2 diabetes. Some examples of food of this type are muffins, white bread, cakes, white rice, and pasta. Replacing these foods with whole-grain options help control diabetes.

  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Drinks like tea, coffee, soda, and lemonade sweetened with sugar are known to increase the risk of diabetes. These have a high calorie content because of the sugar and easily lead to weight gain. The high sugar intake further increases insulin resistance. If you want to minimize the effect of sugar, you must limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Saturated and Trans Fats

Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy as they are known to increase cholesterol levels in the blood, a major contributor to type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are found in fried foods and packaged baked goods, while saturated fats are found in butter, fatty meats, and full-fat milk and cheese.

  • Red and Processed Meats

Red and processed meats like bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs are linked to type 2 diabetes. They are very bad for the health because they have high levels of sodium and nitrites. These processed red meats should be replaced with healthier options such as sardines and other fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, and other small portions of organic poultry.

Can one prevent diabetes?

Yes, you can prevent diabetes by living an active lifestyle and adopting healthy eating habits. If you are at risk for diabetes, are obese, or have a family history of diabetes, you must make a few changes in your lifestyle to avoid serious health complications associated with diabetes. If you are obese, you must focus on losing weight by getting more physical activity. Regular exercise helps you lower your blood sugar and boosts your sensitivity to insulin.

You should also decrease your intake of processed carbohydrates and increase your fiber intake. Fiber-rich foods promote weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease. They also improve blood sugar control, reducing the risk of diabetes. Whole grains may also help maintain blood sugar levels, also reducing the risk. Try to make at least half your grains whole grains. There are many foods made from whole grains such as whole-grain pasta, breads, and cereals. Just look for the word ‘whole’ on the packaging.

By adopting these healthy dietary choices and including exercises in your daily regimen, you can definitely lower your risk of getting diabetes.

Does diabetes make you tired?

Yes, diabetes can make you tired. In fact, fatigue is the most common and disabling symptom of diabetes. Some studies have suggested that as many as 85% of people with diabetes experience fatigue. This extreme tiredness also interferes with your daily activities and hence is considered a disabling symptom of diabetes. There are several reasons why diabetes make you tired. High blood sugar makes blood thick and sticky. As a result, it can’t easily get through the capillaries, inhibiting the proper circulation of oxygen and nutrients to cells. Due to the lack of oxygen, high blood sugar makes you feel tired all the time. As well, when you are diabetic, your body doesn’t get sufficient energy from food. In addition to that, high blood glucose can also cause tiredness through inflammation. When blood vessels get inflamed, immune cells called monocytes are drawn into the brain, which leads to fatigue. Apart from that, the mental stress of coping with diabetes can also make you feel exhausted all the time.

However, note that it’s not only the diabetes that could be causing a patient's fatigue; certain other medical conditions may also be responsible. Among these are low thyroid levels, low testosterone levels, undiagnosed heart disease, fibromyalgia, anemia, poor sleep or insomnia, depression, stress, a poor diet, medication side effects.

Does diabetes cause weight gain?

Yes, diabetes can cause weight gain! The following are among the ways diabetes contributes toward weight gain:

1) Thyroid Disorders: Thyroid disorders are very common among people with Type 1 diabetes. Hypothyroidism, a condition in which thyroid glands produce insufficient thyroid hormone, can not only make you feel tired and lethargic; it can also contribute toward weight gain.

2) Sleep Disorders: Diabetes is also linked to some sleep disorders. Not getting enough sleep disrupts the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which regulate satiety and appetite. When these hormones are affected, people tend to eat more yet not feel satisfied. Research also shows that people who have sleep apnea are more likely to be overweight. Sleep apnea is a disorder where a person experiences pauses in their breathing while sleeping. The more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the risk of obesity is.

3) Insulin: Diabetes calls for insulin therapy, a treatment that helps maintain blood sugar levels within your target range. Going on intensive insulin therapy to keep your blood glucose in control is known to cause fast weight gain. This is because you will then have sufficient insulin circulating in your blood, which helps the glucose get absorbed by the body's cells to be used as energy. Hence, the glucose produced by the food you eat is no longer excreted through your urine, causing you to gain weight.

How will I know that I am diabetic?

The following are some common warning signs and symptoms of diabetes:

Symptoms of diabetes unique to women include:

Can diabetes cause hair loss?

Yes, diabetes can cause hair loss. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce adequate insulin or doesn’t use it effectively to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. As a result, that excess sugar starts damaging all the organs of your body, including your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and even blood vessels. When these blood vessels are damaged, they may not be able to deliver enough oxygen to nourish your body organs and tissues, including hair follicles. This lack of oxygen disrupts your normal hair growth cycle, leading to hair problems.

If you have diabetes, you may lose more hair than usual and this hair loss can affect any part of the body such as the arms, legs, scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Diabetes also prevents the growth of new hair, and patients are also more likely to have a condition called alopecia areata, in which patches of hair loss form on the head and other parts of the body.

Is there a cure for diabetes?

Diabetes is not a curable disease as yet, but symptoms can be alleviated or prevented through certain medications and the proper management of insulin levels. There are simple things you can do daily that will improve your condition and make a big difference. The main things you must do to manage your diabetes are as follows:

  • Manage your blood sugar levels: You should aim to keep your blood sugar as near to normal as possible. Frequently check your glucose levels before and after meals. Regularly take your diabetes medicine as prescribed and balance your food intake. Exercise regularly, manage stress, and maintain good sleep habits.
  • Manage your diet: Managing your diet is the next important thing you can do to control your diabetes symptoms. Avoid processed and sugary foods and adopt healthy eating habits.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise helps normalize your blood sugar levels. It burns calories and keeps you fit.
  • Never miss your medical appointments: You should keep up with your medical appointments and that includes your appointments with your endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, diabetes educator, dentist, and other health care professionals.

Can diabetes go away on its own and can its effects be reversed?

Diabetes is a progressive chronic condition that has no permanent cure at this time, but adopting an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits will allow you to control and manage it. While there is no way by which you can reverse diabetes or its permanent effects once they've happened, if your diabetes is diagnosed in the early stage, aggressive management may help you prevent the worsening of problems. This means you have to maintain your fasting glucose levels below 100 mg/dl and your after-meal (two hours after) levels below 140 mg/dl. You are not necessarily required to rely on medications and insulin injections. You can control your blood glucose through diet alone. With regular exercise and a healthy diet, it is entirely possible to really feel your condition improving.