Fact: Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, and every three minutes another is diagnosed, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. This disease is about more than just watching your sugar intake and finger prick tests–it can mean the risk of life-threatening health conditions if not managed properly. When it comes to preventing diabetes, understanding your risk and knowing what signs to look for is key.
Diabetes 101: What it is, what it does
Diabetes is a disease where the body either can’t produce insulin–the hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood–or, it can’t properly use the insulin it produces. There are two types: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is where no or very little insulin is released into the body and type 2, (which about 90 per cent of people with diabetes has), is when the body can’t properly use the insulin that’s released, or it doesn’t make enough. In both types, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy.
This build up can lead to chronic kidney disease, foot problems, or eye disease that can lead to blindness, heart attack, stroke, anxiety, nerve damage, and more. If left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can certainly kill. If it’s diagnosed and managed well, people with diabetes can live totally vital, healthy lives.
Some type 2 diabetes risk factors include:
- Having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Having a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder
While many people with type 2 diabetes don’t actually display any symptoms, some signs of onset of diabetes can include feeling unusually thirsty, extreme lack of energy, blurred vision, recurring infections, cuts that are slow to heal or tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.
What you can do to prevent diabetes
Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study suggest that 90 per cent of type 2 diabetes in women can be attributed to five factors: excess weight, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, smoking and abstinence from alcohol (moderate alcohol consumption–three drinks per week–were associated with decreased risk). So in general, staying healthy in the ways you already make a point to will help prevent diabetes. Specifically, be sure to:
Stay active on the regular. Working your muscles daily improves their ability to use insulin, which puts less stress on your body’s insulin-making cells. Women who got 30 minutes of exercise per day were found to be at a lower-risk of diabetes.
Stick to whole grains. Women who ate an average three servings of whole grains per day were found to be 30 per cent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes compared to those who rarely consumed whole grains.
Don’t get into the habit of skipping breakfast. Women who skipped breakfast regularly were found to have a 20 per cent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Why? Our bodies need to be fed regularly to maintain healthy levels of blood lipids like cholesterol, hormones such as insulin, and normal blood pressure. If we’re in the habit of denying ourselves food too regularly, we put a strain on us that can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and blood pressure problems.
Watch your red meat intake. Swapping a healthier protein source like nuts or legumes, low-fat dairy, poultry, or fish or whole grains for one serving of red meat per day was associated with a 16 to 35 per cent lower risk of diabetes.
Don’t smoke. People who smoke are roughly 50 per cent more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers, and heavy smokers have an even higher risk.
If you think you could be at risk for developing diabetes, check out the Canadian Diabetes Risk Questionnaire for your risk score.