The D Word - "Diabetes"
You may or may not already know that November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Every year, The Nutrition Room aims to provide accurate information while keeping things fun and relevant. We know that not everyone in our “TNR” community is interested in diabetes but, we think, you should be!
Did you know that 1 in 3 Canadians are affected by diabetes or pre-diabetes? Not to mention, 1 in 2 young adults will develop diabetes in their lifetime? Read that again! It is shocking!
Also, diabetes management through our health care system costs Canadians $30 billion dollars annually. Ouch! So, before you close out of this blog, know that diabetes really does affect every Canadian in some way.
Whether you have been diagnosed with diabetes, have a family member living with it, or are looking for some early information, we want to break down the most common question: 1) What is it?; 2) How can I reduce the risk?; and 3) How do we improve those scary stats?
WHAT IS DIABETES?
So what the heck is diabetes anyways? Simply put, it is a health condition where a person’s blood sugars are higher than normal. This can either be because the pancreas is not producing enough (or any!) insulin OR the pancreas is working just fine but the cells in the body are not responding to the insulin that is being produced.
Think of insulin like little keys! The keys get released, they pick up the sugar in the blood, and carry it over to the cells. They open the door with the key, and in goes the sugar! Yay now you have energy!
In diabetes, when there are no keys being made, the sugar builds up in the blood and we call it type 1 diabetes. Sometimes the keys are being produced, but some of the doors are locked or the keys don’t fit; again, the sugars build up in the blood. We call this type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease and type 1 is commonly recognized, but there are a couple other types of diabetes too! Gestational diabetes is a type women get when they are pregnant and it usually goes away after delivery. GD is most commonly caused by hormone changes or other risk factors like age, ethnicity, or family history. Pre-diabetes occurs when blood sugars are slightly elevated, but not yet enough to call it diabetes. There are some less common forms of diabetes but we won’t get into that here (as much as Jen would like to nerd out.)
HOW DO WE REDUCE OUR RISK OF DIABETES?
Type 1 - While science continues to investigate the prevention, or delay, of type 1 diabetes, we just haven’t found therapies for preventing the disease. Unfortunately, science just can’t compete with the complexities of this form of the disease to stop it from happening. This is a total drag, but we keep rooting for science because we know, one day, it could get there!
Thankfully, treatment for managing type 1 diabetes has come a really long way and is top notch these days so those diagnosed can live a healthy and normal life through medication (yay for modern medicine) and tweaks to their day-to-day routine!
Type 2 - Good news! There are lots of ways we can reduce the risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes that are researched and supported by science!
Healthy behaviours; including avoiding weight cycling (STOP dieting k?), eating more nutrient dense foods and less calorie dense foods, and limiting sedentary lifestyles by moving our bodies!
Medical nutrition therapy; individualized nutrition counselling is essential in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, and others. What works for one individual may not work for another so it’s important to be assessed by a Registered Dietitian and continue following up. (we LOVE working with you guys here to help you get off the restricted food lifestyle!)
Dietary patterns; there is strong evidence to support the use of the Mediterranean and “DASH” style of eating (dietary approaches to stop hypertension). HUGE note here… these are not “diets,” we don’t believe in rules and restrictions, but instead providing education about your body’s interactions with different foods so you are in control and KNOW what you need to make your own food decisions.
Mindful movement and activity; Did you know that moving our bodies increases our sensitivity to insulin? Remember the doors and keys analogy? Activity helps open the doors, keep them open, or ensure that the keys continue to fit!
Pharmacotherapy; we use medications that can prevent the transition of prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.
WHERE HAVE WE GONE WRONG?
To get a bit research-y for a minute...the diabetes epidemic has been associated with the urbanization and environmental changes of our living environments. Overall, our lives have become much more sedentary over the past several decades. Think desk jobs, more people driving cars instead of biking, running or walking, fewer available paths for walking and biking, and a major increase in the availability of convenience foods (um, hello Skip the Dishes!).
So what can be done? MAJOR changes are required at a high level.
Here are just some ideas for you to ponder:
Update the food industry to improve messaging on labels.
Improve the regulation surrounding food advertisements (aka: no more marketing that food is good or bad, it’s all just food.)
Develop a school curriculum that emphasizes nutrition, movement, and wellbeing.
Improve and promote our built environment (pathways, bike lanes, city transportation)
Modify our work environment and the 9-5 desk jobs
Offer taxes and subsidies on certain food categories
Create programs for high-risk, low income populations
We threw a lot of information at you; if you made it this far, it means you are interested in preventing diabetes either for you, someone you know or are passionately working toward an academic or political career in health policy.
If you’d like to chat more about diabetes prevention or treatment, head to our website and set up a call. We’d love to continue the conversation
References: Diabetes Canada