November is National Diabetes Month, with World Diabetes Day celebrated on November 14. The month has been designated for diabetes awareness since 1975, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), but it was not officially recognised until the early 1980s.
For more than 40 years now, November has served as a time where organisations, people with diabetes, caregivers, loved ones, and other advocates rally to shine a much-needed spotlight on diabetes. This helps drive research and potentially even saves lives.
Did you know that more than one in five of the people in the United States who has diabetes does not even know they have it? According to the ADA, that is 7.3 million people out of a total 34.2 million who are not aware they are living with the disease and all the health risks that poorly managed blood sugar can pose.
Diabetes puts people at risk for nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, foot and limb injuries, vision problems, and other complications that arise from having uncontrolled blood sugar. That is why understanding diabetes and how to manage it is more important than ever. Also known as diabetes mellitus, it is actually a group of metabolic disorders that cause your blood glucose (sugar) level to be higher than it should be and therefore prevents your body from properly using energy that comes from food and beverages.
Diabetes is often referred to as ‘sugar’ in Jamaica, and is a potentially life-threatening illness that is the second-leading cause of death for Jamaicans under the age of 70 years. The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III (2016-2017) indicates that one in every eight persons 15 years and older has diabetes. Four out of 10 persons in Jamaica who have diabetes are not aware of their status.
There are three major types of diabetes:
• Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune disorder that typically begins before adulthood, in which the immune system destroys cells within the body that make insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
•Type 2 diabetes: A disease that usually begins in middle age, which results when the body isn’t able to use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar.
• Gestational diabetes: A condition during pregnancy in which the body does not use insulin properly, similar to type 2 diabetes.
Depending on what type of diabetes you have, blood sugar monitoring, insulin and oral medications may play a role in your treatment. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and participating in regular activity also are important factors in managing diabetes.
An important part of managing diabetes as well as your overall health is maintaining a healthy weight through a healthy diet and exercise plan:
Healthy eating: Contrary to popular perception, there is no specific diabetes diet. You will need to focus your diet on more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, foods that are high in nutrition and fibre and low in fat and calories, and cut down on saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sweets. In fact, it is the best eating plan for the entire family. Sugary foods are fine once in a while, as long as they are counted as part of your meal plan.
CREATING A MEAL PLAN
Yet, understanding what and how much to eat can be a challenge. A registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan that fits your health goals, food preferences and lifestyle. This will likely include carbohydrate counting, especially if you have type one diabetes or use insulin as part of your treatment.
Physical activity: Everyone needs regular aerobic exercise, and people who have diabetes are no exception. Exercise lowers your blood sugar level by moving sugar into your cells, where it is used for energy. Exercise also increases your sensitivity to insulin, which means your body needs less insulin to transport sugar to your cells. Get your doctor’s advice to exercise. Then choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or biking. What is most important is making physical activity part of your daily routine.
Aim for at least 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise most days of the week, or at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. Bouts of activity can be as brief as 10 minutes, three times a day. If you have not been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually. It is also a good idea to avoid sitting for too long, aim to get up and move if you have been sitting for more than 30 minutes.
Living with diabetes can be difficult and frustrating. Sometimes, even when you have done everything right, your blood sugar levels may rise. But stick with your diabetes management plan, and you will likely see a positive difference when you visit your doctor.
If you decide to try any type of alternative therapy, do not stop taking the medications that your doctor has prescribed. Be sure to discuss the use of any of these therapies with your doctor to make sure that they do not cause adverse reactions or interact with your current therapy.
Additionally, there are no treatments, alternative or conventional, that can cure diabetes, so it is critical that people who are receiving insulin therapy for diabetes do not stop using insulin unless directed to do so by their physicians.
Source: American Diabetes Association, Centre for Disease Control, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Diabetes Association of Jamaica, National Health Fund.