By Rennie Aranda, Skinny Gene Registered Dietitian
Growing up, I began to understand the importance of healthy eating and the effects that poor diet and limited physical activity have on the body when both parents were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Watching them become dependent on medication to help control their blood sugar levels led me to want to pursue a career that involved nutrition and promoting a healthy lifestyle. More importantly, having both parents with diabetes definitely made me more aware of the disease, its potential complications, and prevention strategies to make sure I would not suffer the same fate.
Risk Factors for Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels in the body. Although the development of this chronic illness is not fully understood, there are certain risk factors that may increase the risk such as:
– Excess weight, which is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes, however not required to develop the disease. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
– Fat distribution. Risks for developing diabetes increases when body stores fat primarily in the abdomen/stomach area in comparison to fat being stored elsewhere in the body, such as hips or thighs.
– Inactivity. Less activity equals greater risk since it helps control weight. Increasing activity also helps the body to use glucose as energy and makes cells more sensitive to insulin.
– Race. It is not clearly defined why, but people of certain races are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes such as Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asian Americans.
– Age. Risk also increases as you get older, especially after the age 45. It may be due to less activity, loss of muscle mass, and weight gain. However, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing dramatically among children, adolescents, and younger adults.
– Pre-diabetes. Although blood sugar is not high enough to be classified as diabetes, it is best to make lifestyle changes at this point because there is a higher chance of being diagnosed if left untreated.
– Gestational diabetes. Having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes can be easy to ignore, especially when symptoms are barely there and you are feeling fine. But uncontrolled diabetes may lead to serious complications since many major organs may be affected including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Serious complications include nerve damage, kidney damage (leading to kidney failure), eye damage (leading to blindness, cataracts, or glaucoma), foot damage (leading to toe, foot, or leg amputation), hearing impairment, or skin conditions. With any nerve damage, the body is more susceptible to infections and complications. Heart and blood vessel disease as a result of uncontrolled diabetes increases risk of cardiovascular problems including heart attack, stroke, narrowing of arteries, and high blood pressure.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
Making healthy lifestyle choices is key in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. You can decrease your chances even if diabetes runs in your family. Even with prediabetes, lifestyle changes can stop or slow down the progression to full blown diabetes. With those currently diagnosed, healthy lifestyle choices may help in preventing serious complications. Here are some prevention tips:
– Eat healthy foods. Choose foods that are lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. Focus on plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
– Get physical.Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. This may include a brisk daily walk, riding a bike, or swimming laps. If you can’t fit in 30 minutes at a time, break up your workout into 10 minute sessions throughout the day.
– Lose excess weight.If you are overweight, losing 5-7% of your body weight may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Small lifestyle changes such as eating healthier or fitting in physical activity in the day are easier to make and more likely to become permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by thinking of the benefits of losing weight, such as more energy, improved self-esteem, and the prevention of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Although my parents are diabetics, they are working towards making healthy lifestyle changes to help keep their blood sugars in control and prevent serious complications associated with type 2 diabetes. Together, we can turn healthy changes into permanent healthy habits, which keep them healthy and other family members less susceptible to developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes.