Diabetes — What is it and what are my treatment options?
Diabetes is an umbrella term for a range of conditions in which a person’s body has trouble processing glucose, either because it has stopped making enough insulin, or because its tissues or red blood cells have lost sensitivity to the hormone.
Some persons develop diabetes because the insulin producing cells within their pancreas suffered an auto-immune attack (type 1 diabetes), others because they may have developed severe insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), and others as a complication of: pregnancy (gestational diabetes), genetic defects at birth (MODY diabetes), or even as a complication of taking certain medications, or of a different health condition such as Cystic Fibrosis, etc. There are many ways in which a person may develop diabetes. It might be necessary to consult with a specialist in order to obtain an appropriate diagnosis.
While some of these types of diabetes are more immediately dangerous than others, they are all equally serious and potentially fatal health conditions if left untreated.
The majority of diabetes cases are of type 2 diabetes, and there are a variety of misconceptions that come with having the health condition. While the condition might be triggered by obesity, for example, it is not caused by the consumption of any one particular food item, including sweets. Type 2 diabetes is a condition which is characterized by insulin resistance, and often an overproduction of insulin by the pancreas, as well as an overproduction of glucose by the liver. The condition is progressive (with time, the insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreas die off), and depending on a patient’s state of progression, their treatment might change. The condition might be triggered at any age in life, and there are various factors which may trigger it such as lifestyle choices, age, family history, medications, other ailments, etc., so it is important to assess one’s risk.
If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there are some treatment options available to you, such as lifestyle changes:
- Diet and exercise – Diet and exercise are often used as the primary treatment option for many persons with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. It should be the first line of defense for a person with any type of diabetes, regardless of any other treatment options they use. Diet and exercise are not a way to reverse diabetes itself, but a way to help us reverse some of the symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes, and slow down its progression. Because type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, it’s important to note that not all persons will be able to remain on diet and exercise alone – nor is it a personal failure if they are unable to do so. It’s simply the progression of the condition. Additionally, being able to treat and manage type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise successfully does not mean a person no longer has type 2 diabetes. They must still monitor regularly, and keep up with any scheduled check-ups. This is imperative in order to know when to adjust treatment, as well as in avoiding complications from high blood glucose.
- Smoking cessation – In addition to diet and exercise, smoking cessation is a way to help control blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of complications. Smoking is one of the number one leading causes of various lung and heart complications, as well as triggering issues with neuropathy (which is the damaging of the various nerve cells, and nerve cell endings within our nervous system.)
- Drinking cessation – While a person with diabetes may still drink in moderation, reducing or curbing the amount of drinks we consume will come a long way in helping a patient prevent complications of the liver, such as fatty liver disease. The liver plays a major role in regulating the amount of glucose present in the system, as well as our cholesterol levels… and all alcohol is turned into triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides are a major contributor to cardiovascular issues.
There are other treatment options available to a person with type 2 diabetes, such as oral agents and injectables. We will examine these in another post. While these other treatment plans might be necessary, ALL diabetes treatment should begin with necessary lifestyle changes that any healthy person (diabetes or no) should make.