Diabetes can be hard to understand, especially if you’ve never had it before or if you don’t have an immediate family member who has it. Since diabetes can affect every aspect of your life, from your exercise habits to the food you eat to the clothing sizes you wear, knowing what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it can make a world of difference in your life. Here are 10 facts about diabetes that you probably didn’t know!
Fact 1: Many people are undiagnosed
20 million Americans suffer from diabetes and at least 86 million are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That means that approximately one in three adults have diabetes, but most of them don’t know it.1 A person with a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl is considered pre-diabetic, which means he or she is likely to develop type 2 diabetes within five years.
Fact 2: Sugary drinks lead to weight gain, which leads to type 2 diabetes
Sugary drinks not only raise your blood sugar, but they also lead to weight gain, which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Cutting down on sugary drinks like soda and juice can help you keep your waistline and blood sugar in check. If you must have sweet beverages, try unsweetened coffee or tea with a splash of milk—they still deliver plenty of flavor without all of that extra sugar.
Fact 3: Type 1 is auto-immune
Like type 2, type 1 is an auto-immune disease. This means that your body is fighting against itself. In Type 1 diabetes, immune cells attack and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas. With type 2 diabetes, however, your body isn’t producing enough insulin to meet its needs or there isn’t a strong enough signal for it to work effectively.
Fact 4: Physical activity lowers type 2 risk
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be lowered through maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including by getting plenty of physical activity. Several studies have shown that being active for as little as 10 to 15 minutes per day can significantly lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Exercising regularly may also help reduce blood sugar levels in people who already have type 2 diabetes. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, such as running or brisk walking, for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Fact 5: Nutrition can prevent and delay type 2 diabetes
Excess body fat is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes. However, studies have also shown that people who eat well have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes—and people with diabetes who manage their blood sugar levels through exercise and diet (which lowers blood sugar) can prevent complications from developing. The bottom line: Healthy weight management and healthy eating can prevent, delay, or even reverse type 2 diabetes.
Fact 6: Stress plays a role in developing type 2 diabetes
Scientists aren’t sure why, but stress seems to play a role in developing type 2 diabetes. It may be because of how stressful events affect your insulin levels. Or it could be that people under a lot of stress are more likely to overeat, get sick and not exercise as much as they should – all things that can lead to diabetes. The bottom line is: If you have high blood sugar, finding ways to manage your stress level is important for lowering your risk of developing complications from diabetes.
Fact 7: Type 2 diabetics can lower their risk by controlling their diet
Your risk of type 2 diabetes can be lowered by losing weight and eating a healthy diet. Try avoiding foods that are high in trans fats, salt, and sugar. Instead, choose foods rich in fiber, lean protein, whole grains, vitamins A and C and calcium. These kinds of nutrients are known to lower your risk of heart disease while helping you maintain a healthier weight.
Fact 8: The oral drug metformin is sometimes prescribed for type 2 patients
While some type 2 patients respond well to insulin therapy, others cannot absorb it properly in their bodies. This is when they are prescribed metformin, a drug that helps shuttle blood sugar into cells, improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin and controlling blood glucose levels—that is, unless you’re not taking it properly. When taken improperly with certain medicines or on an empty stomach, metformin can cause side effects like nausea and vomiting.
Fact 9) Insulin therapy helps regulate blood sugar in type 1 diabetics
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where one’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that helps convert sugars and starches into energy. Injections of insulin are necessary to replace what your body cannot make on its own. Today, most patients who use insulin must still prick their fingers several times a day to monitor blood sugar levels and inject accordingly.
Fact 10) In both types of diabetes, if you manage your blood sugar
correctly, you can lower your chance of complications
In Type 1 diabetes, eating a balanced diet can help your pancreas make enough insulin to process sugar correctly. In Type 2 diabetes, exercise and weight loss can reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol, which will improve your body’s ability to process sugar in your bloodstream. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight is vital because excess fat can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. For both types of diabetes, monitor your blood glucose levels regularly.