What is Diabetes?

About Diabetes

The term “diabetes” refers to a blood glucose level (BGL) of 126 mg/dl or higher.  That’s it.  It’s a symptom, not a disease.

The conditions that underlie high BGLs are the diseases.  Most cases are type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.  They both cause high BGLs but they’re different diseases with different characteristics and happen for different reasons.

Neither disease is curable or preventable.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes causes too much sugar to be in the blood.  This can lead to conditions like heart disease, blindness, amputations and others.  If diabetes is not treated, complications and early death will happen.

The damage isn’t obvious while it’s occurring, so it’s easy to pretend diabetes isn’t a problem for years – until the complications hit like a ton of bricks.

These things do not need to happen.  You can fight diabetes and live a long, healthy and productive life.  It takes commitment, but it can be done.

There are two choices.  You can ignore it and become a victim, or you can challenge it.  CDP is for challengers.

What Causes Diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 and type 2 diabetes start when  “You inherit a predisposition to the disease and then something in your environment triggers it.”

Here’s how the body normally works.  Food digests into sugar (called glucose).  Glucose travels through the blood to your cells.  An organ called the pancreas senses the glucose and releases insulin.  Insulin is a “key” that “unlocks” the cells to let the glucose in for energy and nutrition.  

With Type 1, the body’s own immune system kills the insulin producing cells.  Insulin isn’t made, cells aren’t unlocked, and the glucose stays in the blood.

A condition called insulin resistance (IR) causes type 2.  Cells become “resistant” to insulin so more of it is needed.  IR gets worse over time, so the pancreas works ever harder and eventually wears out. The cells need more insulin and the pancreas can’t keep up so the glucose stays in the blood.

People think being overweight, sedentary and/or eating too much sugar causes diabetes, but this isn’t true.  In fact, only about 1 in 7 overweight people ever become diabetic while many thin people do.

We do not know how to prevent the immune disorder that causes type 1 or the insulin resistance that underlies type 2.

The Toolbox

Three tools help manage diabetes: diet, exercise and medication.  Some people can do it with just diet and exercise, but most diabetics eventually need medication in addition.

In a nutshell, here’s what the tools do:

    The food you eat determines how much glucose your body must deal with.    

    Physical activity is the magic bullet because It naturally and quickly removes glucose from the blood. ​

    Medication helps the body function closer to normal, but it can’t control blood glucose levels on its own.

The tools work together and a change in one means a change in another. We’re all different and we need to figure out what works for us. It’s a big reason diabetes is so challenging.

What about Food?

Foods aren’t equal.  High carbohydrate foods like table sugar raise the blood glucose level a lot. Meats, fish, eggs and many vegetables raise it minimally, if at all. Eating intelligently is critical to managing diabetes.

You’re more likely to succeed if you eat foods you enjoy.  Nothing is forbidden, but diabetics need to recognize the carb content of what they eat.  Once you know this, there are lots of ways to manage food:

    Eat less of the high carb and more of the low carb.

    Bake with less sugar (you won’t miss it).

    Use sugar substitutes.

    Cook with spices, which generally have no carbohydrate.

Our tastes are different. The challenge is to create a personal strategy with foods that are nourishing, taste good and don’t drive blood glucose levels through the roof.

The Magic Bullet

Exercise recommendations can be daunting.  A typical program recommends 30-60 minutes of exercise per day, a combination of aerobic and resistance training 3-4 days a week, exercising all major muscle groups, exercising at least every other day while working up to five days a week, walking 10,000 steps a day…and more.

Runners and gym rats may not have a problem with this, but others are intimidated and troubled to think they’re doomed if they don’t comply.

If a person with diabetes follows the guidelines, their blood glucose management will improve – no question about it.  But what about those who can’t?

“Exercise” doesn’t necessarily mean sweating, sore muscles and exhaustion.   It can. but it’s helpful to think of it as “anything that makes your skeleton move.”  This includes vacuuming, walking to the store and doing anything that isn’t sedentary.

The more active you are, the more muscle you’ll build. Muscle is a powerful tool for diabetics.  It naturally pulls glucose from the bloodstream without medication and either burns it or stores it for future use.  The blood glucose level (BGL) will drop immediately and it will be easier to manage for about two days, even if you’re relatively inactive.

“More is better.”  The more muscle you have and the more you move the better your BGL will be.  It’s the magic bullet for diabetics.

If you keep it up, you’ll get stronger and become even more active.  The payoff is that your blood sugars will be easier to manage.

Physical activity is free and effective.  It’s a magic bullet for diabetics.

Medication

Type 1 diabetics no longer produce insulin, so insulin is the necessary med.  Digestion destroys it, so insulin is delivered by injection or a port inserted under the skin.

Type 2 cripples the ability to produce insulin so the pancreas can’t control blood glucose levels on its own. Some diabetics manage with only diet and exercise, but the condition is progressive most eventually need meds.

Over 50 medications do various things. They promote insulin production, reduce insulin resistance, induce muscle to absorb glucose and others.  A health care professional is needed to find the best option.

Medication’s effectiveness depends on food intake and physical activity.  Even with medications If you eat lots of carbs and veg out, you’ll have a higher BGL than if you ate smarter and went for a walk.  It’s easy to blame doctors for not prescribing the right medication, but an erratic lifestyle gives them a moving target they can’t hit.

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We have a problem.

Millions of diabetics don’t treat their disease well, if at all. It’s the reason they, their families and everyone who counts on them suffers from the avoidable complications of a manageable disease.

Why is this?

Widespread misperceptions are a big reason. They come from a confused jungle of information that includes old wives’ tales, hucksters who promote “cure” and “reversal” programs, zillions of diet suggestions, inaccurate advice from misunderstood health care providers and others.

They all contribute to an unjustified stigma that criticizes diabetics and blames them for getting the disease.

Bad information leads people to think the disease isn’t all that serious, it’s a killer you can’t beat and everything in between. Clueless diabetics can experience apathy, denial, depression, frustration, fear and shame. All of them hinder good treatment and all are reinforced by a public that is woefully ignorant about diabetes.

This is serious. It’s time to stop the nonsense, fix the problem and cut down on the amputations, blindness, kidney disease and other complications that destroy lives.

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

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