Diabetes is on the rise in the U.S. Get the facts about ways to prevent & manage the disease.
November marks the beginning of American Diabetes Month; an annual opportunity for the community of people managing diabetes to shed light on the experience of dealing with this disease. For those with and without diabetes, November allows for a chance to educate yourself on the risks of diabetes, resources to manage the disease, and how to prevent it. As always, Sesame is striving to be a part of the solution. We consulted our own Dr. Allison Edwards about methods to prevent and manage diabetes, as well as steps you can take to increase your awareness around this prevalent disease.
The facts around diabetes
Let’s start with some of the basic facts about diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body does not properly process food into energy. When we eat food (particularly carbohydrates, or “carbs”) the body turns it into glucose (sugar), the substance our body uses as energy. Central to this process is insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas to help cells absorb glucose. In people with diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or uses it inefficiently. This causes the blood sugar, or blood glucose levels, to get too high – known as hyperglycemia.
The two primary forms of this disease are classified as type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes – also known as insulin-dependent diabetes – is a chronic autoimmune condition that occurs when your body attacks your pancreas with antibodies causing the organ to stop producing insulin. There is no specific, known cause of type 1 diabetes, and the development of the disease is thought to be unrelated to weight or health problems. The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes often appear during childhood or adolescence but may also develop during adulthood.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces insulin, but the body doesn't use it correctly. Excessive blood sugar levels cause cells in the pancreas to release more insulin. High levels of insulin production cause cells in the body to become resistant to it, meaning that the cells are unable to take in enough sugar to keep blood sugar levels from rising.
Obesity and inactivity are thought to be the main contributing factors to developing type 2 diabetes. Physical activity uses up glucose, which helps lower blood sugar levels. When you remain inactive for prolonged periods of time, blood sugar levels can rise to dangerous levels.
Diabetes is on the rise
According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 10 Americans (37 million people) have been diagnosed with a form of diabetes. 90-95% (about 35 million) of these people have type 2 diabetes. New research from the CDC shows that diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are surging among people under the age of 20; diagnoses for type 1 diabetes increased by 45%, while diagnoses for type 2 diabetes increased by 95%. These increases are prevalent among youth of all sexes and ethnic groups, although type 2 diabetes diagnoses increased the most in Black and Hispanic youth.
These numbers are especially concerning when you consider the long-term health risks and complications that can develop because of diabetes. Complications of diabetes include heart disease, nerve damage, eye damage, kidney disease, and increased risk of infection. In some cases – such as in the development of heart disease – these complications can be fatal. Because of this, it is extremely important for individuals who are at risk of – or have been diagnosed with – diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels through healthy lifestyle choices and medication (when appropriate).
How to prevent diabetes
As mentioned above, you can decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle choices. These include:
A healthy diet: This means staying away from sugar and unhealthy fats. Aim to have a large portion of your food intake come from veggies (especially leafy green ones), lean protein, and other natural whole food sources. In general, aim to increase your intake of fiber and whole foods while decreasing your intake of foods containing high levels of simple carbohydrates. Decreasing your overall calorie intake – with the supervision of a health care provider – can also help you lose weight and lessen your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Get plenty of physical activity: Exercising, like proper nutrition, is good advice for everyone. If you're diabetic or at risk for developing diabetes, it can help keep you at a healthy weight, keep your heart and lungs healthy, and may help your body regulate blood sugar. Aim for about 2.5 hours of aerobic physical activity a week such as brisk walking, swimming, or jogging. Additionally, it is recommended that you avoid prolonged periods of inactivity. If you can, try to get up and move around every 30 minutes or so.
Weight loss and weight management can be tricky. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sesame offers convenient and affordable video and in-person weight loss consults with top-rated nutritionists and primary care providers across the country. Health care providers like nutritionists can help you establish a sustainable weight loss program and stick to your goals. Working with a professional can take the guesswork out of your dietary requirements, meal planning, and activity levels. Weight management plays a key role in preventing and managing diabetes, so it’s never too early to talk to a certified health care provider about your lifestyle choices.
If you’re worried about your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you can also talk to your health care provider about scheduling a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1C) lab test. An HbA1C test measures the average amount of blood sugar (also called glucose) attached to your hemoglobin over the past three months. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. Excessive levels of glycated hemoglobin – above 5.7% – indicate an increased risk of developing diabetes.
A1c tests are usually performed by your primary care provider. To diagnose prediabetes or diabetes, the test is performed by taking a sample of blood via a needle inserted in the arm. If your doctor suspects that you may be at risk for diabetes, they will usually order two separate A1c tests to be performed on different days. Once the blood has been drawn, it will be sent to a lab for analysis. It may take a day or two before you get your results back.
These tests are the most definitive tools doctors can use to diagnose diabetes and manage existing cases of diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent and dangerous conditions affecting Americans today. At Sesame, we hope you take some time during this month to learn a little more about this disease, and how to prevent or manage it. Questions? Talk to a licensed health care provider on Sesame today to talk about your concerns and what you can do to take control of your health.