Diabetes is a world-wide health issue. It can lead to a host of conditions, including diabetic nerve pain. Here’s what you should know about diabetes, how to avoid your own diabetes risk factors, and reduce your chances of future pain.

What is diabetes? 

Sugar is a compound found in many foods nowadays that can cause extreme problems for diabetics. The human body processes glucose, or blood sugar, and converts it to energy. Glucose is found in many natural food sources and makes things sweet such as fruit or desserts. It is also a product of starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and pasta. Glucose is regulated in the body by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. It stimulates cells to process glucose and turn it into the right amount of energy needed to function daily.

Healthy insulin levels should rise and fall according to the amount of glucose in the body. When eating, glucose levels rise as should insulin. When blood sugar drops, natural insulin should also drop.

Diabetes is an incurable disease caused when the body does not produce insulin in the correct way. The body is then unable to process blood sugar naturally which can lead to medical emergencies resulting from extreme highs and lows of glucose in the system.

Some statistics about diabetes include:

  • In 2015, 30.3 million people in the U.S. (or 9.4% of the population) had diabetes
  • China has the most diagnosed cases of diabetes, with 98.4 million cases in people between the ages of 20 and 79.
  • There were 382 million people globally living with diabetes in 2013. That number is projected to rise to 592 million people by the year 2035, an increase of 55%.
  • North America will spend 263 billion annually on health costs related to diabetes. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Diabetes symptoms

Worldwide, 46% of diabetes cases go undiagnosed, so it is important to raise awareness and recognize the signs and symptoms of this disease. For Type 1 diabetes, symptoms usually come on swiftly and are extreme, while Type 2 symptoms may occur gradually over time.

Some diabetes symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Excessive thirst and frequent urination
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities (hands and feet)
  • Increased infections
  • Wounds that heal more slowly than usual
  • Weight loss not associated with a change in diet
  • Increased appetite
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Loss of interest
  • In severe cases, nerve pain

Types of diabetes

There are two common forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. There is also a form known as gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs in approximately one in 25 pregnancies across the globe. Although generally resolved post-partum, women who experience gestational diabetes are more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes later in life, as are their children.

Type 1 diabetes

Also known as juvenile diabetes, this is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the healthy cells of the pancreas and essentially shuts down the body’s natural production of insulin. Most people are diagnosed with this condition before the age of 40, although in rare cases it may occur later in life. The exact cause is uncertain but genetics plays a significant role in the disease. It is also possible that exposure to certain viruses can cause the onset of the disorder.

Since the disease is most likely to occur in children it is important for parents to watch out for the signs. Symptoms can include:

  • Excessive thirstiness
  • Frequent urination
  • Bed wetting for children without a history of it
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

However, it is also important to note that none of these experiences are unique to diabetes, so there may be a variety of potential causes. If you notice these symptoms in your child you may wish to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent it from occurring, and diabetes risk factors are harder to control. Family history plays a role and individuals with parents or siblings with the disease have an increased risk.

Type 2 diabetes

Frequently called adult-onset diabetes, this is a chronic condition that affects how the body metabolizes sugar and produces insulin. When we talk controlling diabetes risk factors, this is typically the type of diabetes we’re referring to.

For type 1 diabetics the body may continue to produce insulin but still not process sugar correctly or the pancreas might not be making the right amounts of insulin to properly metabolize the glucose. Type 2 diabetes mainly affects adults, although childhood obesity rates are increasing the cases in younger people. The condition is incurable but can be managed in most cases by maintaining a healthy lifestyle although some people still need to take insulin.

Type 2 diabetes develops slowly and many people have the condition for years without knowing it. Excessive thirst and hunger may be symptoms of the condition along with frequent urination, slow healing infections, and patches of darkened skin which may be a sign of insulin resistance. Genetics may be a cause of type 2 diabetes, but it is most prevalent in individuals with unhealthy habits including obesity and inactivity.

What are the major diabetes risk factors?

Diabetes risk factors are different for different people. Although heredity plays a large part in Type 1 diabetes, there are other risks factors for Type 2, some of which can be controlled.

Major diabetes risk factors

The major diabetes risk factors include:

  1. Lack of physical activity. People who are inactive and do not get a minimum amount of physical exercise daily are at an increased risk. Sedentary lifestyles also contribute to other risk factors such as drinking and smoking, which, in combination, increase the risk of diabetes exponentially
  2. Unhealthy diet. Diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods increase the chances of developing diabetes.
  3. Obesity. Obesity is the number one risk factor for developing diabetes. With a few notable exceptions, people who are obese tend to have a lower level of physical activity and an unhealthy diet. A higher BMI generally indicates a higher risk
  4. Age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop Type 2 diabetes.
  5. High blood pressure. High blood pressure can be caused by a number of different conditions, which can then lead to diabetes.
  6. Race and socio-economic status: People of Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latino descent have a higher incidence of diabetes than their caucasian counterparts. Low-income minorities are more at risk for diabetes for all of the above reasons but also due to limited access to fresh food, medical resources, and education

These are the major risk factors that we have a lot of research behind. While some risk factors for diabetes are not within a person’s control, scientists are always studying what other actions people can take to reduce their chance of having diabetes. Four recent risk factors have come to light.

1. Watching TV

What is the easiest way to increase your risk for diabetes? Spend more time in front of the television.

A new study published in Diabetologia found that every hour spent watching television increases the risk of developing diabetes by 3.4%. This result was part of a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) lifestyle intervention that was looking at how increasing physical activity helped prevent or treat diabetes. Researchers were not expecting to find that TV watching itself was a substantial lifestyle risk factor.

2. Low vitamin D levels

A new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that even more than obesity, low vitamin D levels indicated an increased risk for developing diabetes. Considering that over one billion people worldwide may have low levels of vitamin D, this is a troubling finding.

One of the study’s authors, Mercedes Clemente-Postigo, MSc, of Instituto de Investigación Biomédica de Málaga (IBIMA) at Complejo Hospitalario de Málaga (Virgen de la Victoria) and Universidad de Málaga in Malaga, Spain, noted that the strength of the study was its variety of participants, saying:

“The major strength of this study is that it compares vitamin D levels in people at a wide range of weights (from lean to morbidly obese subjects) while taking whether they had diabetes into account.”

Another of the study’s authors, Manuel Macías-González, PhD, of Complejo Hospitalario de Málaga (Virgen de la Victoria) and the University of Málaga, proposed that even if the findings were troubling, the solution may be simple, saying:

“Our findings indicate that vitamin D is associated more closely with glucose metabolism than obesity. The study suggests that vitamin D deficiency and obesity interact synergistically to heighten the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders. The average person may be able to reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough outdoor activity.”

3. Fat choices

Diet is a primary treatment protocol for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Most treatment plans recommend low-fat dairy products, presumably to help manage weight gain and BMI, but new research from Lund University shows that full-fat dairy products are the best choice when it comes to reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. It appears that it is not necessarily the level of fat in the diet that increases risk, but rather the type of fat. While consuming full-fat dairy products reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, meat consumption increased the risk.

Study author Ulrika Ericson noted that the composition of fat in foods may be the key to why some fat appears to lower risk while other fat raises it:

“When we investigated the consumption of saturated fatty acids that are slightly more common in dairy products than in meat, we observed a link with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. However, we have not ruled out the possibility that other components of dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese may have contributed to our results. We have taken into account many dietary and lifestyle factors in our analysis, such as fermentation, calcium, vitamin D and physical activity. Our results suggest that we should not focus solely on fat, but rather consider what foods we eat. Many foodstuffs contain different components that are harmful or beneficial to health, and it is the overall balance that is important.”

4. Less added sugar

The number of people with Type 2 diabetes worldwide has more than doubled from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008. One of the reasons for this increase may be the increased consumption of fructose. Current nutritional guidelines indicate that a diet can have up to 25% of added sugars daily, but researchers have called for a drastic reduction of that in a recent write-up in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Lead author James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, plainly stated the causes and consequences of this increased consumption, saying:

“At current levels, added-sugar consumption, and added-fructose consumption in particular, are fueling a worsening epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Approximately 40% of U.S. adults already have some degree of insulin resistance with projections that nearly the same percentage will eventually develop frank diabetes.”

Recommendations for appropriate levels of added daily sugar consumption vary widely and include the following:

  • 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 19%
  • Institute of Medicine: 25%
  • World Health Organization: 10% (with a goal of 5% for “optimal health”)
  • American Heart Association: No more than six teaspoons for women and nine for men

Fructose naturally occurs in fruit, which is fine to consume and does not count towards a daily total of added sugars. This study specifically looked at processed foods with added sugar (e.g., spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, cereals, etc.). The study authors believe that dietary guidelines should be further edited to include more consumption of fruits and vegetables, a lifestyle change that can prevent Type 2 diabetes.

How to prevent diabetes

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented at this time, but Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or the progression of the disease slowed if corrective action is taken.

To reduce your diabetes risk factors and chances of developing diabetes, follow these simple guidelines.

Reduce your sitting time

Getting up and moving around every 20 minutes or so increases blood flow to the brain and muscles and generally improves circulation. Simply stretching at your desk or walking around during commercial breaks when watching TV can reverse the effects of too much sitting.

Increase exercise

It doesn’t matter where you start an exercise plan as long as you start one. Walking for one hour three times a week can reduce the progression of diabetes by up to 58%, and 30 minutes of any type of daily exercise (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 40%. Start an exercise plan by walking five minutes a day, even if that is all you can do, and gradually add on to that until you are walking for at least 30 minutes daily.

Fix your diet

Malnutrition or inadequate food sources are a problem that is at the root of diabetes around the world. Some blame urbanization and the accompanying food deserts that exist in city environments for the shabby state of nutrition in city dwellers. In some cases, it may be possible to remedy this with CSA (community-supported agriculture) deliveries. In others, it may be harder to remedy than simply telling people to eat better.

Whatever the case may be, adding as many fresh fruits and vegetable to your diet, along with whole grains and lean proteins is a step in the right direction. Eliminate sugar and processed foods as much as possibly and substitute in healthy snacks and meals when possible. Global poverty, regional conflicts, and food shortages due to weather make this step more difficult for some areas of the world, but it is a necessary change to help curb diabetes.

Get enough sleep, but not too much

Sleeping less than six hours a night or more than nine hours can increase your chances of Type 2 diabetes. Sleeping less interferes with the way the body processes food, and sleeping more can indicate depression, another risk factor for diabetes. Develop good sleeping habits and stick with them.

Stop smoking

In addition to increasing your cardiovascular healthy instantly, stopping smoking is an excellent way to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Smoking is associated with weight gain in the abdomen and high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

To find out your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, fill out this quick questionnaire.

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