Since 1950, the World Health Organization (WHO) holds an annual event to raise global awareness about important health issues that know no borders. Past World Health Days have focused on crucial, international public health issues such as antimicrobial resistance, road safety, and mental illness. This year spotlights the prevention, treatment, and management of diabetes. Read on to learn more.
Take Action To Halt The Rise Of Diabetes
It’s clear why the WHO is concerned. In 2008, around 347 million people across the world had diabetes, and the numbers are growing, especially in low- and middle-income countries. In 2012, diabetes was the direct cause of nearly 1.5 million deaths, with 80 percent of those occurring in low- and middle-income countries. The WHO projects that diabetes will be the world’s 7th leading cause of death by 2030.
But there’s good news: most diabetes is preventable. Simple lifestyle measures have proven to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. Maintaining normal body weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of the disease. And the cases that are caused by genetic or environmental factors are treatable.
Read on to learn more about this condition and its symptoms, when to seek a diagnosis, and how to make smart choices around diet and exercise that can help keep you out of harm’s way.
Of Course I’ve Heard of Diabetes. But What Is It, Really?
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough of the crucial hormone insulin, or when the body does not respond appropriately to insulin — which is called “insulin resistance.” Insulin helps regulate the body’s blood sugar levels which, when stable, provide the energy we need for our bodies to function properly. Without enough insulin or effective use of the hormone, sugar can’t make its way into our body’s cells in order to be burned as energy and it builds up in the blood, throwing our systems out of balance and making us ill.
By definition, diabetes is having a blood glucose level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more after an overnight fast.
Understanding the types of diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes: This form of diabetes is an auto-immune disorder generally diagnosed at a young age, though rarely the onset occurs in adults. With this form, the body produces no insulin on its own because the body’s immune system attacks or destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes require insulin injections to stay healthy, but also benefit from healthy food choices, physical activity, and controlled blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Related: Read about a Withings user diagnosed at age 51: Living With Type 1 Diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes: About 90 percent of the cases of diabetes are type 2, which is a metabolic disorder which occurs when people develop insulin resistance. The illness is most common among overweight and sedentary adults, however, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children. In type 2 diabetes, too much sugar induces a high production of insulin to reduce the amount of sugar in the blood, but when the body is exposed to too much insulin, it becomes resistant and the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate. When the pancreas is exhausted and no longer produces any or enough insulin, or the insulin is not being used effectively by the body, treatment is necessary.
Gestational Diabetes: During pregnancy, a woman’s placenta makes hormones that, in some cases, can lead to insulin resistance. The diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before you conceived, or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. But the risk of gestational diabetes is higher among women who were overweight or obese before becoming pregnant, or who gain too much weight during pregnancy. If not treated, the occurrence of gestational diabetes also equates to a higher risk of the development of type 2 diabetes for mother and child.
When not treated and managed, complications from any form of diabetes can compromise all the major organ systems of the body, and greatly increase risk for heart attacks, strokes, nerve damage, kidney failure, blindness, impotence, and infections of the extremities that can require amputations. There is also a risk of comas resulting from too much or too little insulin.
How Would I Know if I Had Diabetes?
As with heart disease, diabetes has been called a “silent killer” because warning signs can often be mild, and can go unnoticed, especially with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, some people don’t seek treatment for type 2 until they experience problems from long-term damage caused by the disease. Two examples are slow-to-heal wounds that become infected, and pain, tingling, and numbness of the feet and legs.
With type 1 diabetes, the symptoms generally happen more quickly — sometimes within a window of days or weeks — and present with dramatic severity. When the body cannot source energy from food, it resorts to poaching muscle and fat. Those with a sudden onset of the illness may experience rapid weight loss. And when your body burns fat, it also produces acids called “ketones” that can build up in the blood and make a person feel extremely nauseated.
Common symptoms of both types of the disease include hunger, fatigue, increased and frequent urination, extreme thirst, dry mouth, and flaky and itchy skin.
As a general rule, call your doctor if you:
- Feel queasy, weak, and super-thirsty
- Are urinating much more than normal
- Have a bad stomach ache
- Are breathing more deeply and faster than normal
- Have sweet breath that smells like nail polish remover – this can be a sign of elevated ketones.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Diabetes?
When it comes to type 1 diabetes, the best way to stay healthy is to be aware of the signs and symptoms, get regular check-ups, and follow your doc’s orders regarding glucose monitoring and insulin therapy.
But when it comes to type 2 diabetes, the best plan is prevention. Since the ball’s in your court, now’s a great time to take action to reduce your risk by staying healthy or getting healthy. Here are the “Three Commandments” you need to know for diabetes prevention:
- Maintain a Normal Body Weight
- Engage in Regular Physical Activity
- Eat a Healthy Diet
Maintain a Normal Body Weight
The average American gains about a pound a year, according to a study on holiday weight gain cited in the New England Journal of Medicine. Look for ways to keep the weight off as the years go by to stave off diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Keep in mind, for weight loss that really lasts, you need to change your relationship with food and cultivate healthy eating habits. Check out the results of our recent weight-loss study using data provided by 3,500 of our Withings scale users. We think the fun, easy-to-read infographics will help you learn some simple changes to lose pounds and keep them gone. Need more inspiration? Check out our recent weight loss success stories.
Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Studies show that exercise not only helps with weight control, it can also keep disease at bay, improve your mood, help you sleep better, and even put spark in your sex life. For fresh ideas on how to get your heart pumping, check out all these fresh activity articles.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We all know choosing low-calorie, high-fiber, low-fat, nutrient-rich foods helps with weight management. But another great reason to bulk up on the colorful veggies and limit calorie-dense meat and dairy is disease prevention. Making changes can be hard, so even if you can’t shift to A+ eating right out of the gate, you could start with a goal of B- and work your way up. Need ideas? From mocktails to Jamie Oliver talking to us about super foods, check out our latest nutrition articles.
Ready to take action?
To stave off or reverse type 2 diabetes, and to manage your health with any form of disease, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits and getting regular medical checkups is crucial. Small daily decisions add up and can change your life.
Springtime is a time of hope and renewal. At Withings urge you to embrace healthy habits such as jumping on a scale every morning, choosing whole foods filled with micronutrients, and breaking a sweat every day.
We’ll try it if you will. Deal?