Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes
(Taken from Harvard School of Public Health The Nutrition Source)
If type 2 diabetes was an infectious disease, passed from one person to another, public health officials would say we’re in the midst of an epidemic. This difficult disease, once called adult-onset diabetes, is striking an ever-growing number of adults. Even more alarming, it’s now beginning to show up in teenagers and children.
More than 24 million Americans have diabetes; of those, about 6 million don’t know they have the disease. In 2007, diabetes cost the U.S. an estimated $116 billion in excess medical spending, and an additional $58 billion in reduced productivity. If the spread of type 2 diabetes continues at its present rate, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States will increase from about 16 million in 2005 to 48 million in 2050. Worldwide, the number of adults with diabetes will rise from 285 million in 2010 to 439 million in the year 2030.
The problems behind the numbers are even more alarming. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure among adults. It causes mild to severe nerve damage that, coupled with diabetes-related circulation problems, often leads to the loss of a leg or foot. Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease. And it’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., directly causing almost 70,000 deaths each year and contributing to thousands more.
The good news is that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. About 9 cases in 10 could be avoided by taking several simple steps: keeping weight under control, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Our cells depend on a single simple sugar, glucose, for most of their energy needs. That’s why the body has intricate mechanisms in place to make sure glucose levels in the bloodstream don’t go too low or soar too high.
When you eat, most digestible carbohydrates are converted into glucose and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Any rise in blood sugar signals the pancreas to make and release insulin. This hormone instructs cells to sponge up glucose. Without it, glucose floats around the bloodstream, unable to slip inside the cells that need it.
Diabetes occurs when the body can’t make enough insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it makes.
One form of diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and permanently disables the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. This is type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile-onset, or insulin-dependent, diabetes. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases are type 1 diabetes.
The other form of diabetes tends to creep up on people, taking years to develop into full-blown diabetes. It begins when muscle and other cells stop responding to insulin’s open-up-for-glucose signal. The body responds by making more and more insulin, essentially trying to ram blood sugar into cells. Eventually, the insulin-making cells get exhausted and begin to fail. This is type 2 diabetes.