While our understanding of diabetes has grown considerably, the condition remains a major health threat. Most cases can be prevented. Even when the disease can't be prevented, diabetes can be managed with diet, exercise and medications.
What is diabetes?
People with diabetes have problems making and/or using insulin, a hormone that helps the body process sugar from the food we eat. Sugar - or glucose - is used as fuel by the body's cells. Glucose builds up in diabetics.
How is it diagnosed?
By testing glucose levels in the blood. In a fasting blood test, a normal glucose level is below 5.5 mmol/L. People are considered "pre-diabetic" if they have a fasting glucose level between 5.5-6.9 mmol/L. People with diabetes score 7.0 mmol/L and higher. Other tests are available, too, such as one that measures how much insulin the pancreas is producing. There are two main forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
What is Type 1?
It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system attacks its own tissue. In Type 1, insulin-making cells in the pancreas are destroyed.People can't make enough insulin. Why does this happen? No one knows for sure, but researchers says patients likely are born with genes that make them susceptible, then they are exposed to some unknown "trigger" that kick-starts the disease. The trigger might be a virus, for example. Type 1 diabetes used to be called Juvenile Diabetes because it usually starts in children. But anyone can develop the disease.
How is Type 1 treated?
People with Type 1 must carefully monitor their diets and take daily injections of insulin. Some inject themselves throughout the day as needed; others wear insulin pumps that provide a constant infusion of the hormone.
What is Type 2?
This is the most common form of diabetes. People with Type 2 make insulin, but their bodies don't respond to it as they should. Those who are overweight and physically inactive are most likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
How is Type 2 treated?
Some control Type 2 diabetes by losing weight, exercising regularly and watching what they eat. Patients with "pre-diabetes" can delay or prevent their progression to Type 2 with "intense lifestyle modification." But many diabetics need medicine. Some drugs make the body more sensitive to insulin; others increase production of the hormone. Many people take a combination of drugs. Some also need to inject themselves with insulin.
How to prevent diabetes
1. Know your risk. Talk to your health-care provider about getting tested for diabetes.
2. Set realistic goals for diet and exercise. Start small, such as exercising for 15 minutes daily, then add five minutes until you reach 30 minutes of exercise on at least five days a week.
3. Make better food choices. Eat fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Avoid fried and processed foods. Eat smaller portions.
4. Write it down. Keeping a food diary can help you lose weight. Show it to your health-care provider.
5. Stick with it. Don't give up if you fall off track. Keep trying; your health depends on it !