Diabetes is a chronic disease that is one of the leading causes of death in this country. There is enough information to talk about this for hours, but I will try to break it down into some take-home points.
I would say that most people I talk to have the basic understanding that having diabetes means they have to monitor their sugar intake and maybe take insulin. Sort of. They also understand that having diabetes puts them at risk for other chronic diseases. Yes. What I do not see is the deeper understanding of just how bad these other chronic diseases can be– and that they perhaps could have been prevented.
Let me start with a story that hits home. My father has been a diabetic my entire life. From what he tells me, he was considered borderline (a term now being re-evaluated to determine whether borderline is actually any different than diabetic) for many years before I was born. His doctor told him to watch what he ate and exercise and he may be able to avoid diabetic complications.
He did not comply. When I ask him today why he didn’t, he says, “I didn’t feel bad”. His diabetes was silent for about 20 years. He always took his medication, but didn’t follow the recommended lifestyle/diet because he didn’t see a reason to. He thought he was okay. When we think of someone being sick, we imagine that they do not feel good. They are tired, achey, unmotivated, have symptoms of a fever, vomiting, headache, etc. This doesn’t happen with diabetes.
Fast forward 20 years to today and unfortunately, his diabetes is no longer silent. He has had 5 heart attacks, multiple stents (one that had to be re-stented), heart failure that includes the need for a pacemaker/defibrillator, chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis 3 days a week, resistance to multiple antibiotics and poor peripheral circulation leading to non-healing wounds in his legs that required one amputation.
This is the part that is often misunderstood. The part where 20 years go by and suddenly, life is completely different than you ever imagined it could be. No, these things don’t happen to everyone. Every person is different and diabetes effects them in different ways. My dad still has decent sight, but some people do not. It depends on how you take care of yourself, genetics and environmental factors. Some of which can be controlled.
What is diabetes?
It is a chronic disease that affects how your body metabolized (breaks down) sugar. Not just dessert-sugar, but anything that turns into sugar…so carbohydrates…including breads, pastas, fruits and vegetables.
Individuals with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin in their own bodies to properly break down and utilize sugars, or it is resistant to the effects of insulin.
This is a problem. It is important that your body knows and uses the energy you give it through food appropriately and efficiently. It is important to absorb the nutrients and properly store energy so as to avoid insulin resistance, weight gain and all the complications that come with them.
I will dive further into risk factors and management in the coming weeks.