Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. Most are over the age of forty, but the number of children and teens being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is on the rise.
Insulin is necessary for the body to use glucose for energy by transferring the sugar from the blood to the cells. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin and becomes resistant to normal or even high levels of insulin, or both. Diabetes complications can occur when glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells.
Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include: a family history of diabetes, being overweight, not being very active, having had diabetes during pregnancy, having given birth to a baby over nine pounds and being over forty years old. Being of African American, Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Native American descent increases your risk.
With the rise of diabetes, it is important to understand how to delay the onset and even prevent the disease. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Early detection is key in helping to avoid complications.
Achieving a healthy body weight through exercise and diet has been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 58% in high risk populations. A healthy body weight is considered to be a BMI of 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2. Moderate weight loss through weekly exercise and engaging in dietary strategies that reduce both caloric intake and consumption of dietary fat can decrease the risk of developing diabetes. Physical activity has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and the American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
Dr. Nadeau, program director at the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center and Kris V. Iyer Endowed Chair in Diabetes Care, suggests choosing a diet rich in whole grains and healthy fats for even more protection against diabetes. He adds that “Skipping the refined grains and sugary soda, and limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat — including bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats — can also help lower diabetes risk.” He recommends substituting with healthier protein sources such as nuts, beans, poultry, and fish.
Screening for diabetes, specifically with a routine blood test, is suggested at least every three years in patients with any of the risk factors listed above. Early detection can help delay the complications of diabetes. A fasting blood glucose reading above 100 mg/dl should be discussed with your clinician. While diabetes is generally considered a silent disease, signs of high blood glucose such as increased thirst, hunger, or urination should trigger you to see your primary care provider to request a blood test to evaluate your sugar levels.
Remember, the key to preventing diabetes is enjoying a healthy lifestyle through a well-balanced diet, consistent exercise and early screening.