When you hear the word “diabetes,” you might immediately think “sugar intake,” but sugar consumption alone doesn’t directly cause diabetes. The Mayo Clinic defines diabetes as a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood sugar or glucose. Glucose is used as energy for muscles and tissues, and is the brain’s main source of fuel. Diabetes can lead to too much sugar in the bloodstream which can then lead to other serious health issues, including cardiovascular problems.
“November is National Diabetes Awareness Month,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce. “Because diabetes affects so many millions of Americans, chances are it has impacted someone in your family or someone you know,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report, more than 130 million adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States – some of whom are living with it and just don’t know it yet.
So, what do you look for? Diabetes symptoms depend on how high your blood sugar is, but some common symptoms include feeling more thirsty than usual, urinating often, losing weight without trying, the presence of ketones in urine, feeling tired, weak and/or irritable, blurry vision, slow-healing sores, and chronic infections. And although most people think diabetes mostly affects older or obese individuals or those that consume too much sugar, there are many factors that come into play. Obesity, age, genetics, dietary patterns and other contributory medical issues can increase your risk of diabetes. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help you start feeling better faster.
Another thing that will help you feel better is exercise. “It’s important to adopt an active lifestyle because doing so has been shown to lower blood sugar, help with weight loss and boost our sensitivity to insulin. In this way, exercise literally acts like a diabetes medication. Next, if you’re overweight or obese, it’s important to realize that even modest weight loss can reduce insulin resistance,” Pierce said.
In addition to exercise, changes in diet often are recommended, too. Some think this means excluding certain foods – or sugar altogether – but that isn’t always the case. Another common myth is that as long as you’re taking medication for diabetes, you can still eat whatever you want. Or that you can just switch out real sugar for an artificial sweetener to combat the disease. While watching what goes into your body is beneficial with a diabetes diagnosis, your doctor can help you develop a plan to treat and minimize symptoms that impact your life. In addition, your doctor may ask you to start monitoring your blood glucose, begin a food journal or prescribe a daily medication to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Finally, it’s important to remain positive. “I know it can seem overwhelming, but a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to be a terrible thing,” Pierce said. “Sometimes, it can be the motivating factor in making healthy lifestyle changes that can improve your overall health,” she added.