A diagnosis of diabetes can be frightening for patients and their loved ones. Though diabetes affects close to 26 million people in the U.S. and rates continue to rise, those with Type 2 diabetes should be encouraged by news that they may be able to manage their disease and live a long, healthy life through increased knowledge, medication and lifestyle changes.
Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose, or blood sugar - which provides energy from the food you eat - is too high. It becomes high when either the pancreas does not create enough insulin to help the glucose reach your cells, or your cells are not sensitive enough to the insulin your pancreas produces, causing glucose to remain in your blood, which can lead to health problems.
Two types of diabetes
The two most common types of diabetes are Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes means that your immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin, so no insulin is made. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, though it can appear at any age.
A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes - the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 95 percent of all diabetes cases in the U.S. - means that your body does not use or make insulin well. Type 2 can be developed at any age; however, it is most often diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults.
Insulin can be a part of life for many people with diabetes
Taking insulin or other medications is often part of treating diabetes. Those with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin because their body no longer makes it for them. Many people with Type 2 diabetes will also need insulin.
"People with Type 1 diabetes should never stop taking insulin," says Dr. Yong Lee, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "However, those with Type 2 diabetes who still have good pancreatic function may be able to reduce their dependence on insulin by making healthy food choices and getting regular physical activity."
The American Diabetes Association reports that you need to balance what you eat and drink with physical activity and diabetes medicine to manage your blood glucose. What you eat, how much you eat and when you eat, combined with regular physical activity, are all important in keeping your blood glucose level in a healthy range.
Three steps on the path to diabetes management
Dr. Lee recommends the following three steps to improve your health when you have Type 2 diabetes:
1. Maintain an ideal body weight.
More than 90 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, but weight loss of as little as 5 percent of your total body weight can help to improve your health. Daily good nutrition and physical activity can help.
2. Follow three simple rules in eating:
- Limit meat consumption in favor of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat fresh, not processed food.
- Eat less.
Physical activity is an important part of creating good muscle mass to manage your blood glucose level and stay healthy. Exercise regularly at a moderate to intense level at least five times per week, mixing cardiovascular activity - brisk walking, swimming, riding a bike - with strength training.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor about these steps and discuss your personal blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol level goals. If you smoke, you must stop smoking. These combined efforts can help prevent the harmful effects of diabetes, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage and eye disease.
"The earlier and more committed you are to changing your lifestyle, the higher the quality of life you will have," Dr. Lee says. "You have everything to gain from a disciplined, empowered approach to your condition."