What the Heck is Diabetes?

Today’s obesity epidemic is coupled with a rise in diabetes, more specifically, Type II Diabetes (Mellitus). But in colloquial conversation, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what diabetes actually is and how it is caused. I think it is extremely important for us to be aware of the risk factors and health consequences because it is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays.

Firstly, note that both types of diabetes deals with insulin, which is a major hormone in our body that deals with digestion. It helps facilitate the uptake of glucose from our blood into our muscles and organs. This is important because once we eat, glucose enters our blood stream but should be quickly bonded with insulin to be transported out of our blood vessels. This systematic mechanism increases absorption of nutrients and prevention of damage to our blood vessels (because the longer anything foreign is in our blood stream, it can cause damage and lead to complications).

There are two types of Diabetes: Type I and Type II. Type I Diabetes is commonly known as “child-onset” diabetes because it is usually only found in children at a young age (but can start at any age up to 30 years old). About 10% of all diabetics are Type I diabetics. With this type, people have an insulin deficiency because their pancreas does not make enough or any insulin. Type I is an autoimmune disorder and is not initially caused by lifestyle choices such as poor diet and lack of exercise. However, symptoms can be exacerbated by poor lifestyle choices. Type I diabetics are dependent on their insulin medications to normalize their diet and regulate their blood sugars.

Conversely, Type II Diabetes is qualified by a partial or complete insulin resistance. This means that the mechanism by which insulin takes glucose up and transports it from the blood into the muscle and organs for use is impaired. Repeated studies have produced similar conclusions such as excess body fat is a primary disruptor of the insulin-glucose mechanism. Furthermore, Type II Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar exactly. Diabetes is linked to excessive weight gain, which is associated with chronically consuming excess calories. These excess calories can come from over-consuming any macronutrient including fat and protein (and not just sugar/carbohydrates). This makes sense because diets that are high in sugar are also high in fat (mainly saturated), so it is not appropriate to blame just sugar, although it deserves its fair share. This type of diabetes is most definitely affected by lifestyle choices like poor diet and lack of exercise. 90% of all diabetes have Type II Diabetes. The scariest part is that although this used to be known as the “adult onset” diabetes, more and more children are developing it. Why? Because they are overeating and not getting enough physical activity to balance it out. As a result, they become overweight or obese which increases their risk of developing diabetes.

Health consequences of uncontrolled diabetes include hypertension (high blood pressure), damaged blood vessels, CVD, kidney failure, loss of extremities, sight and hearing problems, and death. It’s not a pretty reality, but the good news is that although poor lifestyle choices can cause Type II Diabetes, good lifestyle choices can control or even alleviate the health complications.

Daily Lifestyle Solutions To Prevent Diabetes and Improve Overall Health

Exercise rigorously for 30-60 minutes a day. There are so many things we can do to stay active. It takes a conscious effort, which makes it harder, but it’s worth it! I know that most people focus on the aesthetics of working out, but that is a transient source of motivation. Try shifting your focus onto your everyday health. Know that every time you exercise, you are improving your functional health and increasing your longevity. What’s not to love about that?!

Eat lower calorie, higher nutrient dense foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Nowadays, we are eating less real food and are eating more food-like substances (e.g. soda, chips, etc). These foods have high in calories and low in nutrients. When preparing/choosing each meal, be mindful of what your food is giving you. With this perspective, your food choices will increase the items that will nourish your body and fuel your activity without adding on the pounds. Conscious decision-making when eating makes a world of a difference.

There are few things we can control about our health, but by making positive lifestyle changes today, you can set yourself up for a long and healthy future. Positive food choices and increased physical activity are part of the solution. We all know this, but few stay consistent with it. Making a daily commitment to healthy food and exercise choices is making a commitment to take care of yourself. I’d like to see all of us live until we’re 100 years old and living an active life like we’re 21 🙂

Happy and healthy living, friends.

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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