Diabetes is a serious condition that can hurt your heart and your overall health. Hispanics suffer disproportionately from diabetes, and more of our youth are becoming diabetic at an alarming rate. But there’s good news: Diabetes can be largely avoided and treated with a balanced diet and daily exercise. It can also be managed with medication.
What is blood sugar?
When you eat, your digestive system breaks the food down into fats, proteins and sugars. These sugars, known as glucose, are the energy source that lets the cells in your body function. This is why after eating meals and snacks, your blood sugar increases, causing an energy boost.
Your blood sugar levels constantly change throughout the day, but the number that people with diabetes and doctors pay the most attention to is the fasting blood sugar level. This is the blood sugar level hours after your last meal or snack.
Measuring your blood sugar before breakfast in the morning gives the most accurate reading of your fasting blood sugar level. A normal fasting blood sugar level in non-diabetics should be between 70 and 100 mg/dL. If your fasting blood sugar level is 126 mg/dL or higher, you are considered diabetic.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that enables your cells to absorb all of the sugar floating in your blood stream. Without insulin, the sugar would just stay in your blood while your cells and vital organs shut down. This is why an adequate amount of insulin is so important to our health.
Type 1 or Type 2: What’s the difference?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body cannot produce insulin. If you have it, you’ll need insulin therapy in the form of pills, injections or a combination. Scientists generally believe that type 1 diabetes is genetic, so even if you’re healthy and fit, you can suddenly have symptoms without warning.
Type 2 diabetes doesn’t develop as suddenly as type 1, and those who are affected can go for years without knowing they have it. It’s also much more common. Ninety to 95 percent of people in the United States with diabetes have type 2. In this case, your body slowly begins to resist the insulin that your pancreas is producing. While we have little to no control in preventing type 1 diabetes, type 2 is much easier to avoid.
Preventing and treating diabetes
Getting regular physical activity, eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way in managing and preventing diabetes. Many patients with type 2 diabetes come off insulin treatment by regulating the amount of added sugars they consume and shedding excess weight. To fully understand how to avoid or treat diabetes, talk to your doctor.
Diabetes and heart health
Diabetes is a serious risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It’s just as risky as smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure.
If left uncontrolled, high blood sugar could eventually damage your eyes, kidneys and heart. Even if you don’t have diabetes, but your fasting blood sugar is dangerously close to the threshold, you’re still twice as likely to die from a heart attack. Remember: Anything you do to help prevent or treat your diabetes is also good for your heart.
Symptoms and risk factors
Being Latino puts you at a higher risk for diabetes than other groups. If you think you might be at risk for diabetes or notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor right away:
Increased or frequent urination
Unusual weight loss
Sores that do not heal
Visit heart.org to learn more about diabetes and how to recognize the warning signs.