November is National Diabetes Month, a time to focus our attention on a disease that continues to be at epidemic proportions.

Much of the food we eat is turned into sugar in the blood for our bodies to use for energy. A hormone produced by the pancreas called insulin allows sugar to move from our blood into the cells of our bodies. If your body doesn’t make any or enough insulin, or if your body is resistant to the insulin it makes, sugar can’t get into your cells, thus causing a higher than normal blood sugar level. When too much sugar stays in the blood, it can damage blood vessels and nerves over time.

There are three primary types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes: The body’s immune system destroys the specific cells in the pancreas that make insulin thus requiring people to inject insulin.

Type 2 diabetes: The most common type of diabetes is related to insulin resistance, where the insulin cannot work as well at opening the cell doors to let the sugar in. Often this can be managed with healthy eating, exercise and oral medications. However, over time the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin, thus requiring insulin injections.

Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 40% to 60% risk of developing type 2 diabetes within the next 5-10 years.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented but below is a list of things that can be done to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Gradually increase your exercise to 30 minutes, five days per week. Discuss increasing exercise with your health-care provider before starting.

Lose weight if you are overweight — any amount of weight loss reduces your health risks. The goal is to lose 10% of your current body weight over one year.

Reduce your stress levels — identify what things in life stress you. Exercise, deep breathing, talking with others and having some fun are all excellent stress reducers.

Make gradual changes in your eating routine to decrease your intake of high-fat foods, particularly animal fats (foods with more than 5 grams of fat per serving).

Decrease your intake of “empty” calorie foods — foods that have little or no nutritional value such as candy, regular soda, butter/margarine.

Increase your fiber intake by eating whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Reduce portion sizes of foods (except eat more of the vegetables).

Talk with your health-care provider about your risks for diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes or are at risk for developing diabetes, call the Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at 775-7844 to sign up for our free monthly Pre-Diabetes class. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and would like education, please request an education referral to our center from your primary care provider. Knowledge is power; learn everything you can about how to prevent diabetes and how you can implement lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress reduction to combat its effects.

This week’s Health Talk was written by Donna Hunt, RD, CDE, diabetes educator and dietitian at the Rutland Region Diabetes & Endocrinology Center, www.rrmc.org.

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