Diabetes is a disease that stops your body from effectively using the energy you ingest from the foods you eat. There are different forms of diabetes, but all are serious medical conditions. If diabetes is not treated it can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, vision loss, nerve damage, and premature death.
Diabetes cannot be cured, but people with diabetes can lead healthy and full lives if they manage the disease properly.
Living with diabetes involves working with health care providers to monitor and manage blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels to reduce the risk of complications.
Meal planning — deciding when and what you eat — plays an important role in managing diabetes. Eating frequent, small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day is a good way of controlling your blood sugar. Foods that are rich in whole grains; dark, leafy vegetables; and lean meats and proteins are ideal. Keeping active is also crucial. Some types of diabetes may also require insulin or other medication.
Diabetes is caused by various factors, some of which you can control (e.g., what you eat and how much you weigh) and some you cannot (e.g., your genetic makeup).
Types of Diabetes
There are different types of diabetes, but all of them alter how your body processes sugar. Normally your body uses sugar as energy, keeping you healthy, but in diabetes this sugar collects in your blood and urine instead, causing you to become sick.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes because it’s usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence.
People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce their own insulin. A person with type 1 diabetes produces little or no insulin and needs to take insulin for the rest of his/her live. It has to be administered regularly through a pump or injection, and balanced with food intake and regular exercise.
The cause of type 1 diabetes is believed to be a combination of genetic and other factors. Weight or diet are not thought to be triggers in this form of the disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults, but is becoming increasingly common in children and youth. Those with type 2 diabetes cannot produce enough insulin and/or their bodies are unable to properly use the insulin they do produce.
Type 2 diabetes can be controlled though diet and exercise, but may also require insulin or other medication to manage blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Many risk factors are known for type 2 diabetes, including age, weight, family history, and ethnicity. For example, having a close relative with diabetes or being of Aboriginal, African, Chinese, South Asian, or Latin American heritage increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
But for all Canadians, weight is the most significant risk factor: 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Excess weight around the waist is especially linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, and people diagnosed with prediabetes are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. For Canadian women generally it occurs in under 4% of pregnancies, but for Canadian Aboriginal women it occurs in 18% or more of pregnancies.
Gestational diabetes is usually managed through diet and exercise, and normally resolves itself after birth. However, having had gestational diabetes puts women at a higher risk of developing other forms of diabetes later on in life.
People diagnosed with prediabetes have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but lower than those with type 2 diabetes.
People with prediabetes have a very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Identifying prediabetes and taking precautionary measures can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and may even be able to reverse prediabetes. Eating nutritious foods that are less processed and low in sugar is a good preventive step. Having a health professional identify whether a person is prediabetic or has other risk factors for developing diabetes may also allow the disease to be stopped before it starts.
Glucose is a simple sugar that your body uses for energy. Glucose is absorbed from your digestive tract and circulated to all parts of your body through your bloodstream.
The amount of glucose in your bloodstream is constantly fluctuating. Eating increases your blood sugar levels, while normal bodily functions and exercise decrease blood sugar in the body.
To avoid having too much or too little glucose, your body tries to maintain a balance by regulating your blood sugar.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. It’s created in the pancreas.
Your body releases insulin when your blood sugar levels become too high. Insulin works by decreasing the amount of glucose in your blood and stimulating your liver to store the excess for later use. As your blood sugar levels normalize, your body stops releasing insulin.
Alternatively, when your blood sugar drops below normal, the process is reversed, converting the stored energy back to glucose to be circulated in the bloodstream.
Diabetes in Canada
Today, 2.4 million Canadians have diabetes and over two times that number have prediabetes.
A few generations ago, type 1 diabetes was the most common form of the disease, but now type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of cases in Canada.
The rise in number of Canadians with type 2 diabetes partly reflects our aging population, as people over 40 are at a higher risk of developing the disease. But the most significant factors are the increase in average body weight and the decrease in physical fitness among Canadians.
Unbalanced diet and a decline in fitness levels mean that the number of children and younger adults living with type 2 diabetes is growing.
It’s much easier to prevent getting type 2 diabetes than it is to manage the illness. Preventing type 2 diabetes is largely a result of following a good diet and exercising regularly — factors that are within your control.