If trends continue as they have, one in three Americans will develop diabetes during his or her lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control, today about 24 million Americans have diabetes already, and another 57 million have diabetes signs and symptoms, or it’s precursor, prediabetes.
For women, the disease can be a risk to both mother and child during a pregnancy as well as raising her risk of having a heart attack, at an earlier age.
And while the numbers of cases are growing, the public perception of this dangerous, life-altering condition continues to be full of myths and half-truths. Having the answers to some of the most basic questions will help you, or someone in your life, understand the disease better.
1. What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks insulin creating cells in the pancreas, most often diagnosed in those under 18, though it can strike at any age and calls for insulin to manage your condition. In type 2 diabetes the body loses its sensitivity to insulin, and while this form was once more common in older people, thanks to today’s rising obesity rates its now being found in people of younger ages. Type 2 is usually treated with changes to diet and exercise, sometimes oral medications or insulin.
2. How do you know if you have diabetes?
While diabetes can cause no symptoms, most often the signs that might signal this condition are frequent thirst and hunger, having to pee more than usual (since you’re drinking more), losing weight without trying, fatigue and irritability. To be sure, you’ll need to undergo a fasting blood test to measure the amount of sugar in your blood after not eating for at least eight hours. Normal readings are 99 mg/dL or lower; prediabetic levels range from 100-125 mg/dL and diabetes is any number over 126.
3. Is my risk higher because my mom or dad has diabetes?
Yes, if you have a close family member with the disease your own risk is higher. The risk of type 1 diabetes goes up by about 5%, for type 2 the risk increases by more than 30%.
4. Should I worry about my belly fat?
Absolutely. Extra fat about your waistline is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Fat in this area, more so than in other parts of the body, increases insulin resistance, part of the trouble for type 2 diabetics. Being obese (or even overweight) can raise your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 90 times. Perhaps the pancreas just can’t keep up with a bigger body.
Type 1 diabetes, by contrast, has nothing to do with your weight.
5. Can diet or exercise really prevent diabetes?
They can. Your doctor will tell you that you can prevent, or maybe delay, the onside of life-changing diabetes by eating a healthy diet and doing some regular exercise. If you already have diabetes, doing aerobic exercise and resistance training helps by encouraging muscles to use more blood sugar, and over the short term can reduce the amount of medication you need to take. Over the long term, regular exercise might lower the risk of complications like blindness or damage to nerves and kidneys.
A recent study found that type 2 diabetics who ate a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fish, fruits, nuts and olive oil lost more weight and went longer without blood sugar lowering medication than those eating a low fat diet.
6. Can my sweet tooth lead to diabetes?
This is one of the oldest, and most doggedly persistent myths associated with diabetes – that having a sweet tooth or eating too much sugar causes the disease. This just isn’t true. What’s more, diabetics don’t need to avoid all sugar, but rather eat a diet rich in whole grains, protein, veggies and fruits; low in fat, cholesterol and simple sugars.
7. If I’m thin I can’t get diabetes, right?
While being overweight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, 20% of diabetics are slim. The number of diabetics in thin Asian populations is growing, showing us that weight isn’t always the culprit with diabetes.
8. If I had gestational diabetes that went away, do I need to worry?
It’s smart to understand your risks – having gestational diabetes increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes signs and symptoms to about 50%… so certainly not a guarantee of illness. Gestational diabetes occurs in about 4% of U.S. pregnancies each year and can be affected by factors like your ethnicity, your genetics and your weight. Losing weight, and being active, after the baby can limit your risk going forward.