Published on Eat This, Not That, 4/13/22
More than 1 out of every 3 US adults has high blood sugar, and of those people, more than 80% are unaware that their sugar is elevated. I am a doctor who specializes in weight loss and disease prevention, and every day I see people suffering due to the silent epidemic of diabetes and prediabetes. The number of Americans with diabetes has doubled over the past 20 years and is projected to continue to increase rapidly. This is important because high blood sugar from diabetes can affect every organ in our body, and increases our risk for heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, nerve problems, and vision loss.
Fortunately, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes are very often preventable. By recognizing the signs and your risk factors, and then making changes to your lifestyle, it is possible to reduce your blood sugar, prevent, and sometimes even reverse type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
1. What happens to your body when you have Type 1 diabetes?
There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your pancreas does not make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key and allows the glucose from your blood into your cells. Your cells can then use the sugar for energy. Without insulin, sugar can’t get into your cells, and it instead builds up in your bloodstream, and causes high blood sugar. This high blood sugar causes damage all around your body. This condition was previously called juvenile diabetes, because it is normally diagnosed in childhood. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2, and accounts for 5-10% of the people with diabetes.
2. What happens to your body when you have Type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes was previously called adult-onset diabetes, because it was most often diagnosed in adults. Unfortunately, we now commonly see this disease in children too. With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas can still make insulin, but your cells need more insulin to respond properly, which is called insulin resistance. As you develop more resistance, your pancreas eventually cannot keep up, and your blood sugar rises, leading to prediabetes, and then type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is diagnosed when your blood sugar is higher than it should be, but not quite at diabetes levels.
3. Signs your blood sugar is too high
Symptoms of increased thirst and increased urination are classic signs of high blood sugar, known as polydipsia and polyuria. When your blood sugar is high, and your kidneys are unable to filter out the excess sugar, the sugar spills into the urine, which pulls water with it. This frequent urination leaves you dehydrated, which in turn makes you thirsty. Despite drinking more fluid and then urinating more, the result is increased dehydration, which can lead to weakness, dizziness, and electrolyte imbalances.
High blood sugar and fluctuations in blood sugar can also lead to symptoms such as headaches and blurred vision. These symptoms may be severe, but they can also be subtle, and easily missed. Our brain cells are dependent on glucose as their primary energy source, so with fluctuations in blood sugar, the brain often feels the effects immediately.
An elevated blood sugar does not always cause symptoms, which explains why so many people are unaware of their condition. It is important to be aware of your risk factors, so that you can make changes to decrease your risk.
4. What are some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?
The biggest risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and prediabetes is being overweight or obese. People who have an excess of belly fat (also known as visceral fat) are at the highest risk. It is believed that this visceral fat promotes inflammation in our bodies and the development of insulin resistance, which leads to prediabetes and then type 2 diabetes.
A sedentary lifestyle is another big risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. The more inactive you are, the higher your risk. Conversely, when we are physically active, it helps to control our weight and decrease our belly fat, but it also helps to decrease our blood glucose levels and decrease insulin resistance.
Genetics also play a role, and people who have parents or siblings with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk. People of certain races and ethnicities also have an increased risk, though it is not understood why. People who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk than people who are white. A genetic predisposition does not mean that you are destined to have diabetes though. More and more we are learning that it is possible to turn genes on and off, and to change their expression, based on our lifestyle and environmental factors.
5. How do you know for sure if your blood sugar is high?
The best way to determine if your blood sugar is high is to see your doctor regularly, so you can check your glucose and Hemoglobin A1C levels. This is especially important if you have signs of high blood sugar or risk factors for diabetes. To check your glucose, you will need to fast overnight. A level of 99 or less is normal, 100-125 indicates pre-diabetes, and 126 or higher indicates diabetes. The Hemoglobin AIC test is measurement of your average blood sugar over the past 3 months and does not need to be done after fasting. An A1C less than 5.7% is normal, between 5.7-6.4% indicates prediabetes, and 6.5% or higher indicates that you have diabetes.
6. What can I do if my blood sugar is high?
The number of Americans with high blood sugar, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing, but there is hope. For most people these conditions are preventable (and often even reversible) with diet and lifestyle changes. Losing weight, decreasing belly fat, and increasing your physical activity level are all ways decrease your blood sugar, decrease insulin resistance, and significantly decrease your risk for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Not only that, but these same changes can also decrease your risk for so many other chronic diseases, improve your quality of life, and add healthier years to your life.
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