November is National Diabetes Month!
In this post:
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a heath condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. It is a chronic condition, meaning that it is long-lasting.
In people without diabetes, your body turns food into sugar (glucose), which feeds your body’s cells. Your pancreas creates insulin, which helps your cells absorb that sugar from your bloodstream.
People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin, or their bodies can’t use the insulin as well as they should. If there is not enough insulin or your body can’t use the insulin, you’ll have too much blood sugar in your bloodstream. This can cause damage over time to your organs and extremities, causing heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, loss of vision, and sometimes even loss of limbs like toes, feet, or lower legs.
There are four important types of diabetes to be aware of: type 1, type 2, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is where your body stops making insulin. This can happen at any age, but most commonly develops in children, teens, and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to survive. There is no known prevention for type 1 diabetes, as it is caused by the body attacking itself by mistake. If you have an immediate biological family member (like your parents, brother, or sister) with type 1 diabetes, you are more likely to get it yourself.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is where your body does not use insulin well. This is the more common type of diabetes – around 90-95% of people with diabetes have this type. Type 2 diabetes develops over many years and is usually, but not always, diagnosed in adults. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes such as eating healthier food, avoiding lots of sugar in your food, losing weight, and being more active. If you have any of the following risk factors, you should consider getting tested for diabetes, and making healthy lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes:
- You have been told you have prediabetes
- You are overweight or obese
- You are 45 years or older
- You have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
- You are physically active less than 3 times a week
- You had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, or gave birth to a baby who weighed over 9 pounds
- You are African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Asian American
- You have had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Prediabetes is not technically diabetes, but most people who develop type 2 diabetes had prediabetes. Prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but are not high enough that you would diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, more than 1 in 3 adults have prediabetes. Prediabetes raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, but it is not too late to fix it. If you make serious lifestyle changes, you can reverse your prediabetes and prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes.
Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. If you had diabetes before you were pregnant, or it lasts long after the pregnancy, that is not gestational diabetes – that is type 1 or type 2. Gestational diabetes is diabetes that only occurs during the pregnancy, but it does increase your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby might be at higher risk for health problems, including developing obesity as a child or teen or getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
Managing Diabetes – ABCs
Management of diabetes is all about knowing and managing your ABCS—your A1c, Blood pressure, Cholesterol, and Smoking. Managing your ABCS will help you lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke, and reduce the risks of developing other diabetes complications, like kidney disease and loss of vision.
- A is for A1c tests (pronounced A-one-C)
- This blood test measures your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months.
- This test is different from daily blood sugar tests, and your doctor might ask you to do both!
- Most people with diabetes should aim for a blood sugar below 7. Ask your doctor what your goal should be!
- B is for Blood Pressure
- Your blood pressure goal should be below 140/90 unless your doctor helps you set a different goal.
- Keeping your blood pressure under control helps make sure your heart is not working too hard, and reduces your risk of heart disease.
- C is for Cholesterol (pronounced Kuh-less-tuh-rall)
- There are two types of cholesterol: LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
- Your doctor can help you decide what your cholesterol numbers should be, and help you make a plan to do something about it if they are high!
- S is for Smoking
- Smoking raises your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. That’s bad!
- Quitting smoking can lower your risk of diabetes complications such as heart attack, stroke, nerve disease, kidney disease, and more.
Your first stop for managing diabetes is your primary care or family doctor. They can screen you for prediabetes and diabetes, diagnose your condition, and prescribe medications or insulin to help manage your ABCS. They can also explain any lifestyle changes you need to make to prevent or manage your diabetes, and refer you to local resources or other local specialists for more education, more intensive management, or help with nutrition and securing healthy food. Many people with diabetes don’t need a specialist, and a family doctor can manage all aspects of your diabetic care – other than making lifestyle changes for you, because only you can do that! Call 907-455-4567 to schedule with a family doctor and get started on diabetic screening, prevention, and management.
If you’re an Alaskan looking for a way to make significant lifestyle changes to better manage your diabetes, or to prevent diabetes, and you don’t know where to start, reach out to the Fresh Start program at freshstart.alaska.gov. They can provide eligible Alaskans with a free health coach, a diabetes specialist, a personalized plan for managing or preventing diabetes, and even free blood sugar monitors.
Your doctor can also refer you to the Food is Medicine program through the Fairbanks Food Bank if you are struggling to afford fresh produce for your diabetic management needs.
If you’re looking for free online resources for how to cook healthier at home, you can also go to the American Diabetes Association and sign up for free cooking classes, diabetes-healthy recipes and meal planners, and lots of education regarding diabetes.
Questions? Call 907-455-4567 to make an appointment with a health care provider today!