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Diabetes

Learn about a host of diabetes-related topics such as how many Americans suffer from this disease to how to easily adjust to a new diet after diagnoses. This section will provide you with the information you need to make informed dietary decisions regarding diabetes.

Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can affect the kidneys, eyes, heart and can even be fatal. Fortunately, there are risk factors to keep in mind and signs and symptoms to stay aware of to avoid severe health complications.

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Diabetes is when the body is unable to utilize glucose from carb sources. This is mostly related to the absence of or resistance to insulin.

There are two types of diabetes, including types 1 and 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the body's own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Blood sugars rise mostly related to insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of all cases.

Insulin can be thought of as a key to cells. allowing glucose to enter from the bloodstream after ingestion of carbohydrate sources. Without insulin or the "key," glucose starts to build up in the blood, hence having "high blood sugar."

Without proper management, high blood sugars increase the risk of diabetes complications, including heart disease and nerve damage. But if diagnosed with diabetes, adopting a healthy lifestyle routine can improve blood sugars and overall health.

Knowing risk factors and predispositions is useful to deter from a diabetes diagnosis. Detecting the early signs of type 2 diabetes is also important for timely preventative measures.

Signs of Type 2 Diabetes and Predispositions

There are risk factors to keep in mind and signs and symptoms to stay aware of to avoid severe health complications.

Predispositions and Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes

Developing diabetes may be a melting pot of both genetic and lifestyle factors. Overarching predispositions and risk factors of type 2 diabetes include:

• Weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and other comorbidities. This is based on body mass index (BMI), in which overweight is classified as a BMI over 25. Obese is classified as having a BMI over 30.

• Fat distribution: Waist circumference is a stronger predictor of diabetes than BMI. And storing fat mostly in the abdomen places a greater risk of diabetes. Men and women are advised to keep waist circumferences under 40 and 35 inches, respectively.

• Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise may increase the risk of diabetes, primarily contributed to an increased potential for weight gain. Additionally, physical activity can also improve insulin resistance and improve blood glucose levels.

• Family history and genetics: If diabetes runs in the family, there is an increased risk of being overweight and developing diabetes.

• Race: African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are more susceptible to diabetes than other races and ethnicities.

• Age: With advancing age, particularly after 45, comes an increased risk of diabetes. The increase may be related to a slower metabolism and weight gain. On the other hand, especially with obesity on the rise, children and adolescents are increasing their likelihood of developing diabetes.

• Prediabetes: Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugars start to elevate. However, they are not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Left untreated, prediabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes.

• Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a condition diagnosed in some pregnant women, often related to changes in hormones. If gestational diabetes arises in pregnancy, women are more at risk of developing diabetes after the baby is born. Women who birth a baby over nine pounds are also at elevated risk.

• Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Women with PCOS have a greater risk of developing gestational and type 2 diabetes. PCOS is a hormonal disorder common among women of childbearing age.

• High Blood Pressure: Also known as hypertension, having high blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg) is linked to an increased diabetes risk.

• High Blood Lipids: Individuals with low HDL or "good" cholesterol and high triglyceride levels raise their risk of diabetes.

Ultimately, there is a strong tie between family and cultural history and type 2 diabetes. That being said, being born into a family with the condition does not grant diabetes as a final destination.

Lifestyle plays a large role in developing type 2 diabetes. This is mostly related to weight that comes from a poor diet or lack of physical activity.

One can prevent the risk of a diabetes diagnosis by changing modifiable risk factors. Lessen the likelihood of diabetes by:

• Modifying the diet: Forgo the foods lacking in nutritional value and laden in calories. Balance the diet with whole grains, colorful produce, lean and plant-based proteins, dairy products, and healthy fats. Also limit sweets and packaged convenience foods and snacks.

• Partaking in exercise: It is recommended to be active most days, with at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Incorporating both aerobic exercises and strength-training workouts can facilitate weight loss, which may lessen the likelihood of developing diabetes.

• Ensuring adequate sleep: Research has suggested inadequate sleep can impede on weight loss efforts and heighten diabetes risk. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults sleep seven to nine hours each night. To best nurture adequate sleep cycles, turn off the lights and all electronics leading up to bedtime!

• Practicing stress-relieving techniques: Stress has a large role in developing type 2 diabetes. This is mostly related to weight gain from frequent stress eating. The stimulated stress hormone, known as cortisol, can also encourage the body to hold onto weight with much more ease. So rather than resorting to foods, manage stress with yoga, dancing, aromatherapy, or other preferred stress-relieving techniques.

Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

Catching high blood sugars early can reduce the risk of a diabetes diagnosis. This is especially true if making lifestyle changes to lower blood sugars and lose weight.

Blood sugars are often tested using measurements provided by fasting plasma glucose, oral glucose tolerance, and hemoglobin A1c.

Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG): The FPG measures blood sugar levels after the individual has fasted. Fasting should be for at least eight hours, though is most reliable when administered in the morning. The FPG is used to measure prediabetes, diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

• Normal: 99 mg/dL or below
• Prediabetes or Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG): 100 to 125 mg/dL
• Diabetes: 126 mg/dL or greater, confirmed diagnosis on two separate occasions

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): The OGTT measures glucose levels two hours after drinking 75 grams of glucose dissolved in water. Like the FPG, the OGTT can be used to diagnose prediabetes, diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

• Normal: 139 mg/dL or below
• Prediabetes: 140 to 199 mg/dL
• Diabetes: 200 mg/dL or greater, confirmed by a second test

Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c): Hemoglobin A1c is also known as the glycohemoglobin test. The test is based on a percentage and reflects the individual's average blood glucose over the past three months. An A1c level does not indicate daily fluctuations and should not be used to diagnosis gestational diabetes.

• Normal: About 5%
• Prediabetes: 5.7 to 6.4%
• Diabetes: 6.5% or greater

Although diabetes requires a medical diagnosis, not all regularly check blood sugars. In absence of these objective values, one might experience these symptoms and signs of type 2 diabetes:

• Increased thirst: Also known as polydipsia, extreme thirst is a noticeable characteristic of diabetes. This can also lead to excessive dryness of the mouth.

• Frequent urination: With increased thirst and fluid consumption, aligns and parallel more frequent trips to the restroom.

• Weight loss: With elevated blood sugar, glucose continuously remains in the blood and is excreted through urination. In turn, calories (or energy from the glucose) are not absorbed into the body and may lead to weight loss.

• Fatigue: Glucose is the body's primary energy fuel. Since glucose is unable to enter the cells, energy loss is a common consequence of diabetes. One might also feel dizzy.

• Blurred vision: High blood sugar levels can cause the lens of the eye to swell. Although typically temporary, the swelling may alter the ability to see and disrupt vision.

• Darkened skin: Also known as acanthosis nigricans, this condition causes a dark, velvety rash. These darkened areas are particularly prominent around the neck and armpits regions.

Additional signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include:

• Irritability
• Headaches
• Increased hunger, even after eating meals
• Slow-healing wounds
• Itchy skin
• Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
• Erectile dysfunction
• Frequent yeast infections
• Loss of consciousness

If experiencing any of the following below, be sure to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. They can help devise a diabetes management plan to best fit personal needs and preferences.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes

After a medical diagnosis, medications may be prescribed to manage blood sugar levels. Though dependent on the severity of the condition, some individuals with type 2 diabetes need to take insulin shots. Taking insulin helps ingested carbohydrate sources and control blood sugars.

However, a complete lifestyle change is beneficial in not only diabetes management, but for overall good health. A balanced diet and exercise can keep blood sugar levels within normal limits and promote weight loss. Losing weight can further control and manage diabetes.

• Weight Loss and Management: Losing weight helps the cells become less resistant to the effects of insulin. Even losing five to 10 percent of body weight can improve blood sugars.

• Balanced Diet: When it comes to diet, individuals often assume carbohydrates are completely off limits. However, the body NEEDS carbohydrates to keep blood sugars stabilized, just the proper kind.

A diabetic meal plan is balanced with whole grains, produce, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fat sources. The timing and portions of meals is also considered to best control blood sugars throughout the day.


• Regular Exercise: Active muscles help utilize sugar for energy, rather than building up in the bloodstream. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity weekly or aim to be active most days of the week. Also incorporate two to three weight training sessions.

Other recommendations to manage diabetes are similar to those that can prevent it, too. This includes sleeping seven to nine hours each night and controlling stress. Moderating alcohol intake can also help manage diabetes.

While there is no "cure" for diabetes, diabetes may be reversed. Making healthy lifestyle changes can help lower dosing needs of insulin or completely discontinue its need altogether.

Recommendations regarding how to reverse type 2 diabetes are also comparable to preventing and managing the condition. These include weight management, a balanced diet, and regular exercise. Whenever laboratory values start to normalize, type 2 diabetes is starting to become controlled and potentially even reversed.

It is essential, though, to not stop using insulin unless advised and directed under the care of a doctor. One should also continue making healthy lifestyle choices, as reverting back to old habits and regaining weight can resurface diabetes. Truly, the condition requires lifelong care and attention for the best overall outcomes.


Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on May 25, 2016. Updated on April 19, 2019.

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