Diabetes is a growing problem throughout the United States. Affecting more than 20 million American men and women, diabetes can put you at risk for a number of serious health related complications, including heart disease, blindness, and stroke. One of the main reasons for the increase in diabetes cases is the new trend towards a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, and obesity. If you are obese, you greatly increase your chances of developing some form of diabetes. Here are the facts about the different types of diabetes, and tips on how you can reduce your risk of developing the disease.

What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas and is used to help breakdown sugars that are found in the majority of your carbohydrate-based foods. Once broken down, these sugars are used by your body to provide energy for its millions of different cells. If you have diabetes, your pancreas either does not produce insulin in great enough quantities or your body does not properly use this insulin to help break down blood sugars. As a result, your blood sugar levels begin to rise, causing a number of different symptoms.

Types of Diabetes:
There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t not make enough insulin. It accounts for 5% to 10% of all diabetes-related illnesses.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body does not use insulin properly, causing insulin resistance. This type of diabetes accounts for 90% to 95% of all diabetes cases.
  • Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Occurring in approximately 4% of pregnancies, this type of diabetes can increase your risk for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of Diabetes
The signs of diabetes can vary in intensity from person to person, but typically include:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • extreme hunger
  • change in weight (either weight loss or weight gain)
  • blurred vision
  • fatigue
  • irritability

Complications of Diabetes
Diabetes is not a disease that should be taken lightly. When uncontrolled or left untreated, diabetes puts you at risk for a number of serious health problems, including:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • kidney disease
  • eye complications (including loss of vision)
  • nerve damage
  • circulation problems (which can lead to amputation)
  • skin disorders
  • depression

Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
One of the main risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. In fact, more than 80% of patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes are more than 30% over their ideal body weight. And, as obesity rates continue to rise throughout North America, so do rates of Type 2 diabetes. In 1990, when obesity rates were 12%, only 11 million Americans suffered from Type 2 diabetes. By 1999, when obesity rates had risen to almost 30%, more than 16 million Americans were suffering from the disease. Obesity and inactivity is now recognized as the leading risk factor for this form of diabetes.

Additional Risk Factors
Additional diabetes risk factors include:

  • having a family history of diabetes
  • having experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • belonging to a high-risk ethnic group (Asian, Hispanic, Aboriginal, or African-American)

Treating Diabetes
Diabetes treatment focuses on stabilizing the sugar levels in your blood stream. Treatments may include:

  • Diabetes Medications: Diabetes pills work to lower blood sugar levels.
  • Insulin: Some diabetics need to supplement their insulin levels. You may need to take daily insulin shots to help break down your blood sugars.
  • Diabetes Diet: Diet is one of the main ways in which to manage your diabetes. You will probably have to follow a diet that is based on an intake of 1500 to 1800 calories a day. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates will be minimized, in order to regulate blood sugars.

Preventing Diabetes
The best way to lower your risk for diabetes is to reduce your weight and increase your activity levels. In recent studies, men and women at high risk for Type 2 diabetes were asked to perform 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week. They also lowered their intake of fat and calories. Within one year, these men and women reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes by more than 58%. Results were even higher for those over the age of 60: they lowered their risk of the disease by more than 71%. Here are some tips to help you reduce your risk:

  • Participate in some form of daily exercise. Include aerobic and strength-training exercises.
  • Limit your intake of carbohydrates and high fat foods. Talk to a nutritionist if you are severely overweight about healthy eating choices that would be right for you.
  • Try to engage in moderate weight loss. Even losing 3% to 5% of your body weight can significantly lower your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Talk to your health care provider before beginning any type of weight loss program.

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