November is Diabetes Awareness Month, the topic for this month's Johns Hopkins health observance.
What is diabetes?
Our bodies use the food we eat for energy. That food is turned into glucose (sugar), and then the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to move the sugar into the cells of our bodies. If you have diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin, and sugar builds up in your blood.
Why prevent or properly manage diabetes?
Extra sugar in the blood may sound like no big deal, but diabetes is a serious disease with serious health complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower extremity issues.
Are you at risk?
It's important to know your risk factors. There are those you cannot control, such as:
- Family history—any blood relative with diabetes increases your own risk.
- Ethnic background—you are at a greater risk if you are African-American, Latino/Hispanic-American, Native American, or Pacific Islander.
- Age—the older you are, the greater your risk.
- History of gestational diabetes.
But there are risk factors that you can turn around:
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
Because there is no cure for diabetes, the focus is on prevention. If you have risk factors or are pre-diabetic, there are ways to prevent or delay onset of diabetes:
Get physically active. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times a week, reduces your risk of diabetes. If you haven't been active, start with five to 10 minutes a day and work your way up to 30 minutes gradually. Brisk walking, swimming, and dancing will not only lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, they'll make your heart and bones strong and relieve stress, too.
Eat healthy. It may seem hard to eat healthy if you are on a budget or always crunched for time, but some simple strategies can get you started. You are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits if you start with small changes, so look for ways to make your meals healthy by choosing:
- Nonstarchy veggies—carrots, broccoli, green beans, kale, cauliflower
- Lean meats—skinless chicken and turkey, lean cuts of pork and beef
- Low-fat dairy products—skim milk, fat-free yogurts
- Whole grains—brown rice, barley, farro, quinoa
- Healthy fats in small amounts—olive, canola, sunflower, and peanut oil
If you smoke or use tobacco—quit.
If you think you might have diabetes, you should schedule a visit with your primary care provider. Some symptoms of diabetes are frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, extreme hunger, sudden vision changes, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, and fatigue.
Properly managing diabetes is key to living a longer and healthier life. If you get diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to work closely with your primary care provider and health care team and follow their instructions. Treatment typically includes diet control, exercise, home glucose testing, and oral medication and/or insulin.