I remember watching my maternal grandpa slowly fill up a syringe and inject medicine (insulin) into his stomach. Sometimes, I would hold the side of his stomach so that he could administer his medicine. Grandpa would do the same with each of his grandchildren, walking them through the steps of injecting insulin and taking his blood glucose readings.
Although he had diabetes, which runs in his family, Grandpa learned as much as he could and took steps to manage it. He enjoyed exercising, would go to his appointments regularly, checked his blood sugar throughout the day, and ate a balanced diet, which would include an occasional small scoop of butter pecan ice cream when he wanted to indulge.
On the other end of diabetes self-care spectrum, I remember the latter years of my paternal grandmother’s life. I remember walking into Memaw’s room at a nursing home in complete shock because both of her legs had been amputated, and there were dark boils on her body. She laid there in agony. Her complexion, which was once light, was now darker and ashen.
The same grandmother whose smile could brighten up a room was losing her battle to diabetes. Life happens to everyone, but I believe the hardships of her life overshadowed her being able to manage her diabetes. She couldn’t properly care for herself and succumbed to the disease.
Growing up, I only thought of diabetes as “the sugar disease.” I thought that if I limited how much sugar I ate; I would be okay. I had no idea that my health was at risk because diabetes runs on both sides of my family. I had no idea what insulin was, that there are different types of diabetes, or ways other than diet that could prevent me from getting it.
Thankfully, I don’t have diabetes nor am I prediabetic. Having diabetes run on both sides of my family has made pay attention to any changes in my body. It has also motivated me to keep track of all of my lab reports for over the past ten years. It’s hard, even as a health educator, but I try my best to focus on what I have control over (i.e., nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep hygiene, etc.) to keep my blood glucose number down. I also enjoy being able to share my personal experiences, knowing and working with people who have diabetes, to educate others. This post is simply that, a means to provide basic diabetes education.
What is diabetes?
If someone were to ask you what diabetes is, what would you say? I can recall the responses from people in my Diabetes Mapping classes. While they had diabetes, some of them didn’t understand what it is. Let me break it down as much as possible.
Diabetes is a group of diseases that is caused by a build up of sugar in the blood stream causing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Let’s say that you eat a slice of pizza. That slice of pizza is broken down into sugar when it enters your body and then the sugar enters your blood stream. If the sugar from the food you eat builds up in your bloodstream, your nerves, blood vessels, organs, and other parts of your body can be damaged.
What causes the build up?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas; it is known as the key in diabetes terminology because it unlocks cells so that blood sugar (glucose) can enter. Some people may not make insulin or enough insulin, while some make insulin that does not work properly. If insulin does not unlock cells for blood sugar to enter, the sugar begins to build up in the blood stream.
Glucose is needed because it provides the body with energy and supports cells, muscles, and organs like the brain. But be careful, too much glucose can harm the body.
The three types of diabetes
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Prediabetes is not diabetes, but it is a diagnosis if someone has a high risk of developing diabetes because of their A1C (2-3-month blood sugar reading).
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, also referred to as juvenile diabetes, occurs when a person’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Because the pancreas is attacked, it either does not make insulin OR it does not make enough.
This type of diabetes normally occurs in childhood but anyone of any age can have it.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes where the body does not use insulin properly leading to insulin resistance.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman has a build up of glucose in her bloodstream. Pregnant women are normally tested for diabetes between their 24th – 28th week of pregnancy.
Having gestational diabetes can put a woman at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes is not diabetes. Being diagnosed with prediabetes means that you are on the verge of developing diabetes. However, weight loss, exercise, and a change in other lifestyle factors can prevent you from becoming diabetic.
Personal Story: Someone who joined one of my 8-week health classes started off prediabetic. He joined the class because the doctor told him to lose a few pounds because of his diagnosis. After losing 20 pounds and making major changes to his diet and exercise routine, he received news that he was no longer prediabetic!
Knowing your numbers
A person’s blood sugar reading depends on their health, if they have diabetes, their activity level, what they eat and when they eat. Have you noticed that you’re asked not to eat or drink anything besides water before a physical? That’s because of blood work that is done to check your blood sugar/A1C. Below are the blood glucose and A1C ranges. It’s important to keep your blood glucose reading within a healthy range and keep track of changes in your blood sugar results as you age.
Prevention and Management
A family history, race/ethnicity, and age are factors that we have no control over. But diabetes can be prevented and managed through:
- Weight loss – Losing 10% of your body weight can help prevent and manage diabetes.
- Nutrition – Following a diet low in sodium, saturated and trans fats, simple carbohydrates (i.e., white grains, pasta, honey, milk) and high in vegetables, lean protein, fruit (too much fruit can be bad for a diabetic) and complex carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains) may prevent and manage diabetes. Diabetics should “test” how their body responds do certain foods by checking their blood glucose 2 hours after eating.
- Exercise – Exercising moves glucose into muscles, moving it from the blood stream. Diabetics should have an exercise routine that will help them manage their diabetes without causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar – not enough blood sugar).
- Sleep hygiene – Getting restorative sleep (all stages, specifically 3 &4) regulates blood sugar and heals the body.
- Stress management – Practicing stress management techniques can lower blood pressure and improve blood glucose.
- Medication management – Taking medications as prescribed is one of the most important ways to manage diabetes.
- Glucose numbers – Knowing your blood sugar range/A1C is the first step to prevention and management of diabetes.
To learn more about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association website and speak with your healthcare team about your concerns.