November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Sure, most of us are “aware” of diabetes on some level, but do we truly know enough to protect our health? Join the #TRN team as we look at some surprising facts surrounding the condition currently affecting around 38 million Americans.
Concerning Numbers and Trends
As we said, though we’re all seemingly “aware” that diabetes exists, awareness alone clearly isn’t enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
This is serious. If diabetes goes unmanaged, it can cause damage to the eyes, heart, kidneys, and nerves or potentially increase your risk for other diseases. Time to brush up on the basics and then take a hard look at some of the habit adjustments we can make to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Diabetes Awareness Month Basics
This year, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases are focusing on diabetes prevention. While condition management and support remain critical research specializations, health officials are hoping to increase public awareness about how to avoid it in the first place.
What We Know
Glucose is a crucial energy source for the body, but our pancreas produces insulin to keep it regulated and in balance.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) levels are unregulated and get too high, but either the pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin to maintain the balance, or the body isn’t properly using it.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5-10% of diabetes cases. The medical community still hasn’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes, but they believe it could be triggered by the body’s immune system, which may be overreacting to and destroying insulin-producing cells. Research also points to the possibility of specific genetic and environmental factors, but this is still inconclusive.
At this point, Type 1 diabetes can be managed through the use of insulin injections, but it unfortunately can’t be prevented or cured. And while it’s most commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, onset can occur later in life.
Type 2 Diabetes
Because Type 2 diabetes is much more common—and actually preventable—it is the type of diabetes that medical professionals are referring to when discussing prevention habits. Read on for more tips and tactics for spotting risk factors and boosting diabetes prevention knowledge!
Diabetes Prevention Tip #1: Know the Symptoms and Risk Factors
Now that we’ve brushed up on the basics let’s talk about symptoms and risk factors. We don’t always notice the little things until they’ve added up to more severe symptoms. When it comes to your health—or the health of your loved ones—stay observant of the subtle signs that something might be off.
Feeling unusually thirsty without explanation
Unexplained changes to weight
Feeling unusually tired or weak without explanation
Mood swings or general irritability
Slow-healing sores or wounds
Becoming more prone to skin, gum, or vaginal infections
Genetics—Family history of diabetes
Ethnicity—Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American people face a higher risk
Age—Adults 45 and over have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
Weight—being overweight is a common risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes
Physical activity level—people who are relatively sedentary or who aren’t physically active at least three times per week have a higher risk
Diabetes Prevention Tip #2: Learn About What Can Affect Your Blood Sugar
We might think that diabetes prevention is as simple as skipping dessert. But not only is sugar hiding in just about every nook and cranny of the American diet (and that’s not your fault, by the way!), but blood sugar management and diabetes prevention aren’t necessarily just about avoiding sweets anyway.
In the CDC’s list of 10 Surprising Things Can Spike Your Blood Sugar, we learn that over-caffeinating, skipping breakfast, losing sleep, and even sunburn can spike your blood sugar. Does that mean that getting a sunburn can “cause” diabetes? No. But it does mean that our bodies are made up of complex, interrelated systems affected by more than just sugar itself. We must understand the patterns and habit cycles contributing to our overall health.
Sugar and Stress
Example: Last night, you stayed up late scrolling TikTok or binging some Netflix, so you’re already sleep-deprived. For the rest of the day, you may rely on an extra latte or a couple of breakroom donuts to provide some needed energy boosts. But those same workday boosts could be sabotaging the next night’s sleep or contributing to your overall stress levels, all of which can throw your blood sugar out of regulation.
No judgment; we’ve all done it. It’s just about knowing what does (and doesn’t) help us in the long run. And regular infusions of sugar and stress probably aren’t it.
Diabetes Prevention Tip #3: Build Healthy Habits the Fun Way
As regular drinkers of a seasonal peppermint latte (or two), we get it: it can be really hard to reverse negative health momentum, especially when we lead such busy lives. Try approaching a lifestyle change with curiosity instead of reluctance.
If you’ve been relying on fast food because you don’t know how to cook, sign up for a local class or shake up your TikTok algorithm to include some easy meal prep ideas. If you’re intimidated by Couch to 5K programs or 10,000 Steps Per Day walking challenges, start with a goal of walking 5,000 steps per day, which has been shown to have its own health-boosting benefits.
You can also check out our heart-healthy list of activities to help get you moving without committing to a marathon or mountain-climbing expedition. The key is to try something, get active, and start on the road to positive lifestyle changes, even if you do it slowly. We want you to stick around for a long time.
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