During a regular check up with your family physician, you learn you have pre-diabetes, a condition where your blood sugar levels are relatively high, putting you at risk of developing type II diabetes. This takes you by surprise, but you’re not too concerned: no one dies from type II diabetes, it’s practically inevitable for many around you.
It’s really not that big of a deal…right?
Unfortunately, this mentality surrounding diabetes is common in today’s society. Despite research showing it has deadly consequences, type II diabetes, a preventable disease, is not perceived as serious as others and its incidence in North America is on the rise.
While there are medications to help manage this disease, the most effective types of management, such as a healthier lifestyle and regular blood sugar monitoring, are self-directed, making it important for those diagnosed to understand the health implications of type II diabetes.
Type II diabetes is caused by the body’s resistance to insulin, a hormone that regulates sugar uptake by the cells. It effectively lowers the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy.
This has numerous implications on health, some of them severe. Diabetes has the ability to deteriorate the entire body, from head to toes, affecting everything from vision and hearing to sexual function and sleep. Not only that, type II diabetes can triple the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is the leading cause of blindness, amputations and kidney failure in North America. Paralysis of the stomach, loss of bowel control, poor circulation and a loss of feeling in the extremities are all precursors to the extreme measures listed above.
If the consequences of type II diabetes are so severe and so unsettling, why does this laid-back attitude towards the condition exist? It stems partly from the fact that diabetes is a manageable disease, without the constant aide of a doctor. From the outside looking in, it does not seem to interfere much with a person’s daily activities and is a common, and thus, un-frightening, condition; nearly everyone knows someone who has diabetes.
These perceptions are not necessarily untrue. However, one key underlying element is missing: diabetes is manageable and does not interfere with the lives of those affected IF they make a lifelong commitment to change their diet, activity level, and monitor their blood sugar levels. A lifelong commitment is not easy or simple; it requires time, effort, and energy.
One of the most effective ways to offset pre-diabetes and manage type II diabetes is changing diet to lower blood sugar levels. Diet and nutrition are directly related to disease prevention and overall wellbeing. For diabetes, this means consuming fewer calories, specifically limiting intake of carbohydrates. Healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and lean meats are recommended. The public needs to get educated and actively think about what they are consuming and their activity level, something that is more likely to happen when a true appreciation for the consequences of diabetes is achieved.
Moreover, incorporating exercise into your life complements eating healthy and is an effective way of coping with type II diabetes. By keeping weight down through exercise, the body’s need for insulin is reduced. Exercise increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing glucose to be used more effectively. In fact, for pre-diabetics, losing 5-10 per cent of their total body weight can significantly reduce their chance of developing type II diabetes. Similar to diet, in order for exercise to be effective in treating diabetes, it must be done regularly and is entirely dependent upon the individual and their motivation.
Finally, monitoring blood sugar levels is an important part of diabetes management and is predominately self-directed. A blood glucose meter can be used at home to test if blood sugar levels are in the appropriate range. This tool can help patients make decisions about food consumption based on the blood sugar levels they observe. The healthcare system has developed many resources so patients can manage diabetes on their own, and not be bogged down by countless doctors’ appointments. This allows patients to live a more normal life but also demands self-direction in coping with their disease.
Managing type II diabetes and living a good life is certainly possible; however, it requires discipline and commitment from those afflicted, something that is often hard to achieve. If changes are not made to diet, exercise, and self-monitoring habits, diabetes has the ability to quickly deteriorate quality of life and has extreme complications, ranging from amputations to increased risk of heart disease.
Ultimately, each individual is in control of his or her health and thus, risk of developing type II diabetes and its complications. It is only when people begin to understand the seriousness of diabetes will they take action in prevention and management. And only then will we see a decline in this life-long, progressive disease.