The younger readers in our audience probably haven’t heard family conversations like “so and so (you fill in the name) got sugar and they had to amputate his/her leg.”
Those were the days when people knew little about what caused diabetes, let alone its real name.
Still 50 or more years later, Black people are still disproportionately dying from the disease and disproportionately having their limbs amputated because of it.
If it’s a disease that doesn’t run in your family, count yourself lucky, but prepare. Get the information you need to understand the disease, what causes it, and how to live – not die – with it.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, which used to be known as adult-onset diabetes, remains more common in older adults, but the increase in the number of children with obesity has led to more cases of type 2 diabetes in younger people.
There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but losing weight, eating well and exercising can help you manage the disease. If diet and exercise aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar, you may also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
When you’re healthy, your pancreas (an organ behind your stomach) releases insulin that circulates in the bloodstream, enabling sugar to enter your cells.
The amount of sugar in your bloodstream drops. In response to this drop, the pancreas releases less insulin.
Diabetes happens when one or more of the following occurs:
In type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make any insulin.
In type 2 diabetes, this process of moving sugar into your blood stream doesn’t work well. Instead of insulin moving glucose into your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.
As blood sugar levels increase, the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas release more insulin. Eventually these cells become impaired and can’t make enough insulin to meet the body’s demands.This can damage many areas of the body. Also, since cells aren’t getting the glucose they need, they don’t work the way they should.
Factors that may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes include:
Weight. Being overweight or obese is a main risk.
Fat distribution. Storing fat mainly in your abdomen — rather than your hips and thighs — indicates a greater risk. Your risk of type 2 diabetes rises if you’re a man with a waist circumference above 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) or a woman with a measurement above 35 inches.
Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
Although not everyone with type 2 diabetes, according to WebMD, being overweight, obesity and an inactive lifestyle are two of the most common causes of type 2 diabetes. These things are responsible for about 90% to 95% of diabetes cases in the United States.
Family history. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases if your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
Race and ethnicity. Although it’s unclear why, people of certain races and ethnicities — including Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian people, and Pacific Islanders — are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than White people are.
Blood lipid levels. An increased risk is associated with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — and high levels of triglycerides.
Age. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45.Uncontrolled Diabetes can lead to lots of different complications
Over time, complications from diabetes can affect major organs in the body. These organs include the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Having a normal blood sugar level can lower the risk of many complications.
Diabetes complications can lead to disabilities or even threaten your life.
Heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes increases the risk of some problems with the heart and blood vessels. These include coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure.
Nerve damage (neuropathy). Too much sugar in the blood can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that feed the nerves. This is especially true in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain. This usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar could cause you to lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs over time.
Damage to the nerves that affect the digestive system can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
Kidney damage (nephropathy). The kidneys have millions of tiny blood vessels that keep waste from entering the blood. Diabetes can damage this system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease that can’t be reversed. End-stage kidney disease needs to be treated with mechanical filtering of the kidneys (dialysis) or a kidney transplant.
Eye damage. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retina (part of the eye that senses light) (diabetic retinopathy). This could cause blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Foot damage. Nerve damage in the feet or poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of some foot complications. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections. These infections may need to be treated with toe, foot or leg removal (amputation).
Skin and mouth conditions. Diabetes may leave you more prone to infections of the skin and mouth. These include bacterial and fungal infections. Gum disease and dry mouth also are more likely.
Pregnancy complications. High blood sugar levels can be dangerous for both the parent and the baby. The risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects increases when diabetes isn’t well-controlled. For the parent, diabetes increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic eye problems (retinopathy), pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and preeclampsia.
Sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic, American Diabetes Association and minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
Helpful tips for diabetics to maintain blood sugar
- Eat a balanced breakfast, and make it early. While minimal research has been done, results show to help control blood sugar. Skipping breakfast and eating lunch have shown to provoke insulin response. Try eating plain greek yogurt, eggs, fruit or a side of veggies with avocado slices for breakfast.
- Have an early dinner. Eating dinner before 6 p.m. could help the impact of fluctuating blood sugar levels. If this is a daily challenge, try to meal prep or have plain proteins and versatile whole grains on deck.
- Take a two-minute walk. Some days could be too busy for a lengthy 20 to 25 minute workout. However, taking a two minute walk or having consistent movement after each meal can help reduce blood sugar levels.
- Meditate. Take a deep breath and say “Woosah”. When experiencing a stressful experience, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, which are hormones. These hormones are beneficial to readjust and conserve energy during a crisis. Unfortunately, this can alter your insulin as more sugar is released from your liver to supply energy. The impact of the short-term crisis can prolong typical stressors that lead to higher blood sugar levels. Yoga practices are proven to better blood sugar control and improved blood sugar levels over the course of three months.
- Cut out diet drinks. Artificial sweeteners and diet sodas can let the body mistake it for consuming sugar. It releases insulin without the need to bring blood sugar down. Over time, this pattern can result in faulty insulin receptors and a higher risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Try to drink naturally flavored seltzer water, tea, unsweetened coffee, plain water, and refrain from artificial sweeteners.