Diabetes, often referred to by doctors as diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), describes a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels, commonly called blood sugar. Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s your brain’s main source of fuels.
If you have diabetes, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.
Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include prediabetes – when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes – and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy. (Reference: Mayo Clinic)
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life. Only 5% of the people with diabetes have this form of the disease. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children with type 1 diabetes can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy, happy lives. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. Some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.
In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)
During pregnancy, usually around the 24th week, many women develop gestational diabetes. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before you conceived, or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. But it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice regarding blood glucose (blood sugar) levels while you’re planning your pregnancy, so you and your baby both remain healthy.
Based on recently announced diagnostic criteria, it is estimated that gestational diabetes affects 18% of the pregnancies. The majority of gestational diabetes patients can control their diabetes with exercise and diet. Undiagnosed or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can raise the risk of complications during childbirth. The baby may be bigger than he/she should be.
We don’t know what causes gestational diabetes, but we have some clues. The placenta supports the baby as it grows. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop. But these hormones also block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance, which makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. She may need up to three times as much insulin. (Reference: American Diabetes Association)
The vast majority of patients with type 2 diabetes initially had prediabetes. Their blood glucose levels were higher than normal, but not high enough to merit a diabetes diagnosis. The cells in the body are becoming resistant to insulin. Studies have indicated that even at the prediabetes stage, some damage to the circulatory system and the heart may already have occurred. (Reference: Medical News Today)
(Reference: Medical News Today)
Depending on what type of diabetes you have, blood sugar monitoring, insulin and oral medications may play a role in your treatment. But no matter what type of diabetes you have, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels are all keys to managing your diabetes. An important part of managing all types of diabetes is maintaining a healthy weight through a healthy diet and exercise plan:
Yet understanding what and how much to eat can be a challenge. A registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan that fits your health goals, food preferences and lifestyle. This may include carbohydrate counting, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.