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Diabetes - A Simple Guide To Understanding Diabetes

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also known as Diabetes Mellitus, is a serious chronic condition of metabolism resulting in high blood glucose. The high level of blood glucose is the result of a lack of either insulin secretion or insulin inaction or in some cases both. Diabetes is the fourth largest cause of death in the USA with more than 200,000 people dying each year from this disease. Diabetes, if left untreated, can cause blindness, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that enables the body to use and/or store glucose (sugar). Insulin is the “postman” sent out by the pancreas (post office) to deliver the glucose (mail) retrieved from the bloodstream (sorting facility) to the muscles, fat, liver and most other cells in your body, so they can “read it” and use it for fuel or energy or to store it for later use.

How The Body And Insulin Controls Blood Sugar Levels

What is the relationship between diabetes and insulin?

For diabetics, the efficacy of insulin is very much diminished, either, because for Type 1 diabetics, the pancreas doesn’t make enough of it, or for Type 2 diabetics the body’s cells are less responsive to insulin. The net result for both types of diabetics is that glucose can build up in the body and reach dangerously high levels. To help the body get the blood sugar under control and to normal levels, blood sugar levels need to be monitored to make sure they are neither too high nor too low. To correct this problem, insulin is taken or other diabetes drugs designed to lower blood sugar levels

Type I vs Type II Diabetes

What is hyperglycemia?

High blood glucose - hyperglycemia - is the defining characteristic of all types of diabetes and can be either acute or chronic. 

Acute hyperglycemia is only temporary and is often caused by a high carb meal, a missed dose of meds or high levels of stress.

Chronic hyperglycemia on the other hand, is a state of long-term elevated blood glucose. Long term elevated blood glucose has a toxic effect of the body’s tissues.

What is hypoglycemia?

Low blood glucose – hypoglycemia - can occur of if there is too much insulin in the bloodstream. Too much insulin can cause the body’s cells to take too much glucose from the blood leading to a low blood sugar episode which can cause confusion, dizziness and fainting. The nervous system relies entirely on glucose for energy and so a low blood sugar episode can trigger a serious nervous system response. Diabetics taking insulin have to also monitor that their insulin level is not too high.

What can I do to help manage my diabetes?

Making a commitment to understanding the consequences of your dietary choices and increasing your metabolism through regular exercise is the most important decision to make. Another, often understated challenge of diabetes is managing stress which can be a major obstacle to effective glucose control and a real danger to overall health.

Exercise helps remove glucose from the blood using a mechanism totally separate from insulin. Regular consistent exercise can lower blood glucose and may result in needing to take less medication or insulin.

There are of course other important benefits of regular consistent exercise which will lower blood pressure and cholesterol, lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke, increases energy levels, relieves stress and will help you sleep better. Exercise will also make you stronger and reduce the risk of fall, reduces depression and improves overall quality of life.

For information regarding diabetes and appropriate footwear, read my article on the topic here.