As National Diabetes Month comes to a close, we want to thank all of the communities, companies, educators, and families across the country that came together to bring attention to diabetes. Knowledge is power and by sharing personal experiences, scientific data, and support strategies we can help to curb the increase in diabetes diagnoses. Taking steps to prevent or manage diabetes is incredibly important to our health. Managing diabetes can not only help to improve how you feel now, but will also improve your future health. With proper glucose management, we will be able to have more stable energy levels, heal better, and reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. We want to close out the month with a few takeaway tips to help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
1. Check/Screen Your Blood Sugar
By checking our blood sugar, we are provided with feedback showing how well we are managing our glucose levels. Screening can entail getting A1c tests or fasting glucose tests from your doctor. An A1C test provides an average value that indicates how well diabetes has been managed over the past three months. A1C tests should be conducted at least twice per year according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
In addition, individuals seeking to monitor their own blood sugar levels from home can do so with a glucometer or continuous glucose monitor. Please understand that a CGM or glucometer is not a substitute for lab tests. However, it can be a great way to see how you respond to various foods. Then you can revise your diet to choose foods that help stabilize your blood sugar
When we are short on sleep our glucose metabolism is disrupted. Even a single night of sleep restriction to four hours impacts glucose metabolism in healthy individuals. When we repeatedly get five or less hours of sleep, we create continuous disruptions in glucose management, and significantly increase our risk of type 2 diabetes.
3. Blood Pressure
Managing blood pressure can help to prevent health problems that are associated with diabetes. A common blood pressure goal for people with diabetes is to be below 140/90 mm Hg.
There are two types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. LDL, low-density lipoprotein, is an unhealthy cholesterol. It can clog blood vessels and impair our vascular health. If left unmanaged, elevated LDL levels can lead to strokes or heart attacks. HDL, high-density lipoprotein, aids in the removal of bad cholesterol from our vasculature. Diabetes can lower the amount of HDL and increase LDL. Speaking with your healthcare team about ways to manage cholesterol can help to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
5. Eat Healthily
When we make food choices that do not spike our blood sugar, we can maintain more stable blood glucose levels. For individuals looking to improve their metabolism, paying attention to portion size, sugar content, and salt content should be a priority. The tricky aspect is everyone’s metabolism is a bit different. Foods that spike some people's blood sugar do not increase the blood glucose of others to the same extent. However, there are some staples that consistently increase blood glucose: sugar, processed foods, candy, and sugary drinks. People with diabetes should shoot to keep blood glucose levels between 80 and 130 mg/dL before eating. Approximately two hours after starting to consume food, the goal is to have blood sugar below 180 mg/dL. Choose healthy, protein-rich foods when possible. Paying attention to serving size can also help us in monitoring the portion of food we consume.
6. Remain Physically Active
Physical activity is a great way to improve metabolic health and increase sensitivity to insulin. This makes the body more effective at pulling glucose from circulation and putting it to use in our cells as fuel. Activity also helps to reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes-associated concerns (like heart disease or nerve damage). We understand that exercise can be a daunting task for some people. Start small, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from your building, or grab a friend and take a walk on your lunch break. Try to work up to 30 minutes of physical activity, at least five times per week.
7. Lower Stress
Stress increases the release of hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones make it harder for insulin to function properly and can contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that the body cannot efficiently take the glucose out of circulation and into the cells (where it can be used as fuel). When we are insulin-resistant our blood sugar remains high. This is detrimental to our metabolic health and can increase the risk of diabetes complications.
8. Stop Smoking
Smokers are 30-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. Additionally, for individuals who have diabetes, smoking can be especially dangerous. Both smoking and diabetes narrow the blood vessels, which requires the heart to pump harder than it should. This increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, nerve disease, diabetic eye disease, and hampers circulation. The good news is, when people with diabetes stop smoking, their risk factors greatly improve.
9. Establish your Healthcare Team
Establishing a team of experts can help to prioritize your health and navigate the multifaceted metabolic waters. These professionals can include diabetes doctors, diabetes educators, dieticians, mental health counselors, nurses, friends, and family.
Take Away Message
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes, impacting the lives of over 33 million Americans. By taking steps to manage our blood sugar and metabolic health we can help to not only reduce the prevalence of diabetes, but also decrease the likelihood of diabetes-related complications for the 33 million Americans who currently have diabetes.
Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick