DIABETES: What is it?

January 12, 2010

DIABETES: What is it?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 2.3 times as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. The disease is the fourth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives, affecting about 16% of the population. Information about diabetes from Tanka friend Lifescript runs every other week in our blog, Walking the Way of Wellness.

Diabetes is a disease caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. You can catch it if you're not careful.

MYTH! The term "diabetes" covers more than one disease. There are actually 2 types of diabetes, appropriately named: type 1 and type 2.

First, let's start with a definition: Diabetes mellitus is a disease characterized by higher than normal levels of glucose in the blood. When food is eaten it is broken down into glucose and transported through the blood to different body cells to be used as energy. What goes wrong in diabetes is that this insulin hormone, which is made by the pancreas, is not available to transport the glucose into the cells or the cells are simply resistant to the hormone. When this happens the glucose stays in the blood, accumulating and leading to complications, such as kidney failure and nerve damage.

Two different types of diabetes

There are two different types of diabetes that require different types of treatment. The onset of type-I diabetes usually occurs early in life and results from the inability of the pancreas to make insulin. People suffering from this type of diabetes are totally dependent on insulin injections to provide the needed hormone. Type I diabetics must monitor their blood glucose levels regularly and make lifestyle choices that will keep their blood sugars steady. This means eating right, exercising on a regular basis and controlling blood pressure.

Type 2 diabetics usually develop the disease later in life, due to the fact that this type is slow developing and is made worse by certain lifestyle factors. The pancreas does make insulin, but the different body cells, such as fat cells, muscle cells & the liver cells, do not use the insulin properly. This is called "insulin resistance." The probability of developing type II diabetes increases with obesity, which triggers insulin resistance.

So why do people develop type 2 diabetes?

Risk factors for developing this disease include both controllable and uncontrollable risk factors. Risk factors that can be controlled include obesity, lack of physical activity and high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Uncontrollable risk factors include heredity, ethnicity, and age.

Heredity plays a role in the likeliness of a person developing type 2 diabetes. If an immediate family member has the disease your risk of developing yourself is much higher. Also, studies have shown that African-Americans and Hispanics/Latino-Americans are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Native Americans are almost three times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to develop the disease.

Finally, type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed in people over the age of 40. However, with the increasing obesity epidemic and the increasing lack of physical activity among Americans there has been an increase among children and young adults developing the disease.

How can you tell if you have diabetes?

Well, there are a number of signs associated with the disease, but many people will show no signs at all. Here is a list of common signs of diabetes:

Excessive thirst
Having to urinate frequently
Feeling extremely hungry or tired
Losing weight unexpectedly
Feeling irritable
Frequent infections
Slow healing wounds
Dry, itchy skin
Chronic bladder, skin or gum infections
Loss of feeling in the extremities
Blurred eyesight

You can take an active stand in preventing type 2 diabetes.

The only way to control the onset is to eat right, exercise and managing your weight. Healthy eating will help to keep blood sugar levels steady by avoiding high-sugar foods and portions that are too large, both of which will overload the body with glucose. Daily regular exercise will help you to manage your weight and rid yourself of unwanted fat.

Remember, having excess body fat can increase the possibility of your body developing insulin resistance.

For more about diabetes: LifeScript
To follow LifeScript on Twitter: @LifeScript

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