Affecting more than 9 million Canadians and 26 million Americans today, diabetes has been the leading cause of death by disease throughout history.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder that impairs the body’s ability to use food for energy. Normally the sugar we take in is broken down in the body into a simple sugar, known as glucose. Glucose circulates in the blood while it waits for the cells to accept it as fuel. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, is responsible for helping to move glucose into the cells. The pancreas will adjust the amount of insulin released based on the level of glucose in your blood. Diabetics experience a breakdown in this process. Their blood sugar levels become too high and this leads to problems.
There are 3 main types of diabetes:
Type 1 – Insulin-Dependent or Juvenile Diabetes
People with Type 1 diabetes are completely unable to produce insulin. This type can occur at any age but it is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30’s. Although the causes are not completely understood, scientists believe the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People will Type 1 diabetes require frequent insulin injections.
Type 2 – Non-Insulin-Dependent or Adult-Onset Diabetes
In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but the body does not produce enough or is not able to use it effectively. The cells may become “insulin resistant” from the constant influx of sugar in our diet. It is a lifestyle disease, triggered by obesity, lack of exercise, increased age, and to some degree, genetic predisposition. 95% of all diabetes cases are Type 2.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition affecting approximately 4% of all pregnant women. It usually appears in the 2nd trimester and disappears after the baby is born. Like Type 1 and Type 2, your body is unable to use glucose effectively and blood sugar levels become too high. If gestational diabetes is not controlled it can affect both you and your baby. Having gestational diabetes increases both yours and your baby’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.
Risk Factors for Developing Type 2 Diabetes
- Being a member of a high risk group (Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent)
- Being overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle)
- Having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 lbs.
- Previously having gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- Being physically inactive (exercising fewer than 3 times per week)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol or other fats in the blood
- Being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, acanthosis nigricans, or schizophrenia
- Increasing age – the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes begins to rise significantly after age 45, and rises considerably after age 65
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
- Unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight change (gain or loss)
- Extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
Note: Many people with Type 2 diabetes may display no symptoms.
How Can You Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?
The Diabetes Prevention Program, a federally funded study of 3234 people at high risk for diabetes, showed that people can delay and possibly prevent Type 2 diabetes by losing a small amount of weight (5-7% of total body weight) through 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week and healthier eating.