Fighting Diabetes- A Family Journey
By Eileen Ferrer, Skinny Gene Nutritionist
There may be at least one person you know with diabetes. I know a few. But it really hits close to home when it is a family member who has it or some form of it.
Honestly, a few years ago I was not concerned with diabetes, nor concerned that I was on that road to acquiring it. I would consider myself a healthy person. I engage in physical activity, my weight is considered to be “normal,” lab results for fasting blood sugars always within normal limits. However, it was only until recently that my non-existing concerns for diabetes finally became a reality. I myself was not diagnosed with it, but I learned that my dad acquired prediabetes. His laxed attitude towards his prediabetes diagnosis tinkered on that fine line of being one hemoglobin A1C result away from being diagnosed as type 2 diabetes; the thought of him getting type 2 diabetes scares me because of the complications that go along with poorly controlled diabetes. Therefore, I made it my responsibility for us to learn as a family, my mom included, on what we can do to prevent him from getting type 2 diabetes, and be healthy overall. Going through this learning process we learned that there are three main types of diabetes, plus prediabetes, and the various symptoms that are associated with this condition.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (TIDM)
TIDM usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Only 5% of people with diabetes have type 1. In T1DM, the body does not produce insulin because the organ that produces it, the pancreas, is no longer capable. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to change sugar, starches and other foods into energy needed for daily life. T1DM needs the help of insulin therapy, via daily injections with insulin pens or syringes or an insulin pump, and other treatments to manage blood sugars.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM)
T2DM is the most common form of diabetes. In T2DM, your body does not use insulin properly, which is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. Over time, the pancreas is not able to keep up and cannot make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels, and the cells that need the glucose are starved for energy. Moreover, having high blood sugars overtime can damage your eyes, nerves, kidneys, and the heart. T2DM can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity, oral medications i.e. pills or insulin.
Gestational Diabetes (GDM)
This occurs when a there is a presence of high blood glucose (sugar) during late pregnancy. The prevalence of GDM is 9.2%. Many women who have never had diabetes can get gestational diabetes. There is no known cause; however, the theory involves the placenta and the hormones that help the baby develop. The hormones can interfere with how insulin functions in the body, which is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it difficult for insulin to be used in the body. Since GDM occurs in the latter part of the pregnancy, the baby’s body has already formed; therefore, GDM does not cause the same birth defects that can be seen in babies whose mothers already had diabetes. However, poorly treated GDM can harm the baby. Since the pancreas is producing additional insulin that is not being used by the cells, blood sugars are still increased. Insulin does not pass through the placenta, but any extra blood sugars can; giving the baby high blood sugar levels too. The baby’s pancreas will make extra insulin to get rid of the extra blood sugars. Since the baby is getting more energy than it needs for growth and development, the extra energy gets stored as fat; resulting in macrosomia or “fat” baby. These babies are at risk for shoulder damage during birth, breathing problems. As children, they are at risk for obesity, and as adults, there is a risk for developing T2DM.
What about Prediabetes?
Most people who develop type 2 diabetes, almost always have prediabetes. This occurs when glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Having prediabetes puts you at greater risk for developing T2Dm and heart disease. If you have prediabetes, you should be checked for type 2 diabetes every one to two years.
The common symptoms of diabetes are:
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Weight loss – even though you are eating more (type 1)
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)
These symptoms are typical of diabetes. However, some people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. Furthermore, there are no clear symptoms for prediabetes, and may only show some symptoms. For women with gestational diabetes, they may have no symptoms at all. The important message is to keep informed, know your body, be healthy and test your blood sugars. As we go through this journey as a family, my dad is becoming more proactive, testing normal for his fasting blood sugars every morning, becoming more physically active with my mom, and slowly eating a little bit healthier.