Diabetes is one of the most widely prevalent but consistently under-estimated diseases in America. You might associate it with eating too much sugar or the old Wilford Brimley commercials. But as the American Diabetes Association notes, more than 30 million Americans (9 percent of the population) had diabetes in 2015. Of those, a staggering 7.2 million cases were undiagnosed.
Next month is National Diabetes Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the issues, educate people about their risk factors, and help put a stop to this disease. This year’s theme—“There’s a Hero in You”—emphasizes the role we all play in diabetes, which affects 1 in every 11 Americans of every age.
The prevalence of diabetes is particularly high in seniors. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 1 in 4 Americans age 65 and older had diabetes—affecting quality of life and overall cost of health care. That’s why we at Brandermill Woods have such a strong focus on health care, staying active, and eating a healthy diet. These are the primary levers any of us can pull to lower our risk for diabetes.
In preparation for National Diabetes Month, here are is some information about the disease:
What is diabetes?
“Diabetes” refers to a series of diseases that relate to how your body processes glucose (sugar). Normally, your pancreas releases insulin to help your body store the sugar and fat you consume. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin—and therefore your body can’t properly process sugar.
There are several types of diabetes. The most common type you hear about is Type 2, often called “adult-onset diabetes.” In this case, your pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, a condition that must be managed. The other two major forms of diabetes include Type 1 (a hereditary disease that often emerges in childhood) and gestational (a disease that affects pregnant women).
I always heard diabetes was caused by too much sugar. Is that true?
Sugar can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes in two ways. First, a diet with too much sugar can lead to weight gain, and obesity is one of the primary risk factors for diabetes because your body develops a resistance to insulin. Second, there is a strong correlation between drinking sugary drinks—such as regular (non-diet) soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and the like. These beverages increase your blood glucose level, which is linked with diabetes.
How can I lower my risk factors?
Exercise and good nutrition are the two ways to control your risk for diabetes. Your diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables and should limit processed foods, fats, and sweets. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise—vigorous walks count!—are the best preventative tools we have.
Is there a cure for diabetes?
Medical science currently has not discovered a cure for diabetes, but the disease is treatable to manage the symptoms. People with diabetes can live long, happy, productive lives. For instance, the spokesman Mr. Brimley was diagnosed with diabetes around 1980 and is still alive in 2018.
What should I do if I have a high-risk factor or suspect I have diabetes?
The best thing you can do is talk with your primary care physician. Annual physicals test blood sugar, so your physician should be able to monitor your condition before it gets out of hand. If you don’t have a primary care physician, finding one should be your first step—whether you are 30 years old or over 65.