Diabetes: America’s newest health epidemic

An American is diagnosed with diabetes every 19 seconds, making it one of today’s fastest growing health challenges. The American Diabetes Association projects that one in three Americans living today will eventually develop diabetes. By 2050, the number of diagnoses is expected to increase by 165 percent. Even more alarming is that nearly 28 percent of those with diabetes do not know they have it. Better care for diabetes starts with education. In recognition of American Diabetes Month, we will take a closer look at what diabetes is, what you can do to reduce your risk for the disease, and what to do if you develop diabetes.

Diabetes affects the way a person’s body processes carbohydrates found in foods such as bread, fruit, pasta and milk. High blood sugars (also known as blood glucose) occur when someone cannot process carbohydrates well. Glucose is an important energy source for our bodies, however, if high blood sugars are high for an extended period of time, this can lead to complications. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney problems, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. These problems don’t typically surface until years after having the disease. Below is a list of risk factors and signs of high blood sugars. If these apply to you, please discuss these concerns with your health care provider.

Risk factors for diabetes:

∫ Over 40 years old

∫ Overweight

∫ Family history of diabetes

∫ Not being active

∫ History of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

∫ Certain ethnic groups (on-Hispanic black, Hispanic/Latino American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaskan Native)

Signs of high blood sugars:

∫ Fatigue

∫ Feeling hungry

∫ Increased thirst

∫ Frequent urination

∫ Blurry vision

∫ Unintended weight loss

∫ Dry skin

∫ Sores that are slow to heal

∫ Loss of feeling or tingling/numbness in the feet

It is vital to work with your health care team to develop a plan to keep you healthy and prevent complications in the event you develop diabetes. Your care team will include your primary care provider, pharmacist, and diabetes educator. Your diabetes treatment plan should focus on healthy eating, physical activity, blood sugar monitoring, and medications if needed.

One of the best ways to avoid problems from diabetes is to try to prevent it from ever developing. Pre-diabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. An estimated 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and 9 out of 10 are unaware they have it. This is due to the fact that most individuals with pre-diabetes do not experience any symptoms. Progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes does not have to occur. Without intervention, pre-diabetes will likely develop into type 2 diabetes in less than 10 years. Your lifestyle choices determine about 50 percent of what happens to your health. This means the choices you make have a direct impact on your well-being. Research shows that weight loss, physical activity, and eating healthy can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.

Weight loss: Studies have shown that as little as 5-7 percent weight loss results in improvements in blood sugar. For example, a 5 percent weight loss for a 200 pound person would be 10 pounds, and a 7 percent weight loss is 14 pounds.

Physical activity: Remember that some activity is better than none! Every little bit adds up and we all have a few minutes each day to get moving. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

Eating more healthfully: Two dietary improvements to consider are to downsize your portion size and follow the 80/20 rule. Reducing our portion size decreases the amount of calories, sugar, fat and sodium you take in. Following the 80/20 rule, you will focus on food quality. Eighty percent of what you consume should provide you with better nutrition including whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. The remaining 20 percent is for special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, when you have foods that are not quite as healthy for you. Cutting out our favorite foods such as chocolate chip cookies, French fries, etc., typically leads to increased cravings and we end up eating larger portions. The most important thing to keep in mind when eating these less nutritious foods is portion control. Calories, sugar, fat and sodium can add up very quickly, if we are not careful.

If you or someone you know has or is at risk for diabetes, feel free to call the Trinity Diabetes Center at 574-6350 to discover how we could help you today.

Kayli Stumpf is a clinical dietitian affiliated with Trinity Regional Medical Center — Diabetes Center.

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