Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. The body breaks down most of the food we eat, especially carbohydrates, into sugar (also called glucose) and releases it into the bloodstream. This blood sugar is vital for life – it’s the fuel that makes everything work, allowing us to think, move, and even make the heart beat. When blood sugar goes up (after eating a meal), it signals the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into the cells for use as energy – it’s important for keeping blood sugar in balance.
With diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or it can’t use it as well as it should. Without insulin, blood sugar can rise to levels that can be harmful over time. High blood sugar can lead to damage in blood vessels which can be linked to serious health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
There are different types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type – affecting about 95% of people with diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, the body may not produce enough insulin or it is “resistant” to insulin – and this leads to blood sugar levels rising. This can happen slowly over time and symptoms of high blood sugar (including increased thirst and more frequent urination) also happen gradually.
While Type 2 diabetes is seen more often in people who carry excess weight and are over 40, it can occur at any age. Type 2 diabetes is treated with a healthy eating plan (with an emphasis on weight loss if necessary), regular physical activity, and diabetes medications that work in different ways to reduce blood sugar.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body does not make any insulin. While a healthy eating plan and exercise is important, taking insulin (by injection or an insulin pump) is essential. It is more common in children and young adults, but it also can occur at any age.
More to know about Type 2 diabetes:
- Treatment for diabetes is not a “cure.” The goal is to keep blood sugar in target range – not too low (below 70) and not too high (above 180). Regular checking of blood sugar helps make sure blood sugar is in target.
- There is a genetic link to type 2 diabetes – meaning, it runs in families. While you can’t change your genes, you can take steps to reduce your risk of getting diabetes such as being physically active and managing your weight (if overweight).
- There are many types of medicines that may be prescribed for type 2 diabetes. Some are pills and some are taken by injection. While all help manage blood sugar levels – some also help with weight control and some have special benefits for the heart and kidneys.
Learning as much as you can about diabetes is one of the keys to successful treatment. Ask your doctor about talking with a registered dietitian and/or a diabetes care and education specialist. Sign up for our free diabetes email program here! It’s a combination of short videos, tips, and simple action items – and best of all, it will only take a few minutes a day. When you finish our program, you will feel informed, empowered, and on your way to feeling better!