Worldwide, 382 million people are diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes related deaths claim the lives of 1 American every 3 minutes and is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke. Besides the enormous physical and mental strain, people with diabetes face the huge cost to treat diabetes. The total cost of diagnosed diabetes has risen to $245 billion in 2012 from $174 billion in 2007 – according to the American Diabetes Association.
All cells in the human body need energy. When you eat or drink, food is broken down into glucose, a simple form of energy the body needs and uses. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps remove glucose from the blood stream where high levels cause the symptoms of diabetes. Think of insulin as the mediator that is required to carry glucose from the blood stream to the body’s cells where it can be utilized for energy. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with insulin production or activity and results in high blood sugar levels. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between type I and type 2 diabetes. For our purpose in this blog, we will further examine Type 2 diabetes below.
*Genetics contribute to both types of diabetes
What causes type 2 Diabetes?
Although we don’t know all of the causes of type 2 diabetes, we know that it is likely a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. The good news is that type 2 diabetes can often prevented and reversed through changes in lifestyle habits. In this blog, we examine the relationship between four key areas of health and type 2 diabetes.
Lack of exercise is usually correlated with higher amounts of body fat- which interfere with the body’s ability to properly utilize insulin and, therefore, remove glucose from the blood stream. During exercise the body is forced to use stored energy as fuel for the workout. When we don’t exercise, our body is not able to utilize its fuel (glucose) as efficiently. A higher waist circumference (aka “belly fat”) is also highly associated with increased instances of developing diabetes. This is because excess abdominal fat produces hormones and other substances that cause harmful effects on the body such as an increase in the production of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), heart disease, and increased insulin resistance
How can I prevent/reverse it? Move more. Exercise decreases body fat and promotes weight loss. Both of which have been shown to have a positive impact on diabetes management. Unhealthy amounts of body fat can impair the system that regulates hormones involved with diabetes. Conversely, muscle helps the body improve the process of insulin and blood glucose regulation. The recommended amount of physical activity for those with or approaching diabetes is the same as for those without diabetes: 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. Taking a brisk walk, bicycling, and swimming are all good examples of ways to meet this goal.
The typical American diet is high in white bread, pasta, soda, highly processed food, and junk food. Foods like this which are high in carbohydrates can have a negative impact on diabetes. When too many carbohydrates are consistently eaten, blood glucose levels remain high, and over time, the body becomes less efficient at utilizing insulin to reduce blood sugar levels. The whole process starts to malfunction and this is the beginning of insulin resistance and diabetes.
How can I prevent/reverse it? Focus on replacing, not eliminating food groups. Carbohydrates have a much larger impact on blood sugar levels than fats or proteins, so that’s why it’s important for people with diabetes to be mindful of carbohydrate intake. In spite of what is commonly said, managing diabetes isn't as much about completely eliminating foods from your diet. It’s more about replacing sugary, starchy food sources like, fried food, soda, and sweets with healthier choices like protein based dishes, low carb fruits and vegetables, and water. Portion size is a key factor. Typical meals should consist of a protein, a healthy fat, and a whole grain carbohydrate; a small sweet treat should be reserved for special occasions only.
Research has demonstrated the correlation between sleep loss and risk for weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. When sleep deprived, our body’s hormones are thrown out of balance. For example, the stress hormone cortisol is higher when sleep is inadequate. Elevated levels of cortisol can prompt insulin resistance which interferes with the body’s metabolism and ability to properly regulate blood glucose levels. Reduced sleep has also been shown to reduce levels of the hormone leptin which is an appetite suppressant; and increase levels of the hormone ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant. With these two key hunger hormones out of balance, it is more difficult to regulate dietary intake and this is when we often see overall increased caloric consumption as well as increased consumption of carbohydrates, specifically.
How can I prevent/reverse it? Prioritize Sleep. For some, improving sleep may be a matter of prioritizing an earlier bed time. For others, a deeper delve into personal sleep habits may be needed. One place to start is to make sure you are maintaining a regular schedule by getting up and going to bed at the same time every day. Secondly, make sure to eliminate all sources of caffeine (soda, coffee, tea, chocolate) at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. Lastly, make your bedroom a haven for sleep. A bedroom that is favorable to sleep is one that is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable.
Both mental and physical stress can have an impact on people with diabetes. Stress hormones like the aforementioned cortisol, and epinephrine can negatively impact diabetes. Let’s think about the fight or flight process. When we react to an urgent, stressful situation our body releases a series of hormones that start a cascade of processes that draw energy from our stores which increases blood glucose levels and allows us to utilize energy for our fight-or-flight response. For people with diabetes, exposure to long term stress hormones decrease insulin’s ability to remove glucose from the blood stream and blood sugar levels become more imbalanced. It can be a viscous cycle.
What How can I prevent/reverse it? Being more mindful of daily lifestyle habits is a good place to start. According to the American Diabetes Association, you can decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle modifications like the ones listed below: