I’m convinced: Diabetes is a MONSTER! As the former editor in chief of Muscle & Fitness magazine, I was at the epicenter of the health and fitness world for much of my career, so I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to watch my own Dad battle diabetes for the last 30 years of his life, undergo heart surgery and then finally succumb to cancer. I know that the real issue with diabetes is that it’s a “gateway” disease. In other words, diabetes is a platform for other life-threatening diseases to develop.
Sure it affects almost 40 million people ––8 million of whom aren’t even diagnosed yet––and yes, diabetics spend more than 2.5x more money on healthcare, or $322 billion per year.
But the scariest issue to me is that diabetes greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and all forms of cancer, not to mention the numerous complications from diabetes itself such as kidney disease, neurological disease, blindness, amputations––the list goes on and on.
So why is diabetes so damaging to your body? It really boils down to 2 major factors: sugar and inflammation. Having high blood sugar levels basically tells your body to store fat. Fat then releases dangerous inflammatory agents daily which sets the stage for many
diseases such as coronary artery disease. For instance, inflammation causes an arterial wall to become sticky so that blood fats adhere to it and forms a blockage. And scientists now know that cancer feeds on sugar preferentially, so high sugar levels make it easier for cancers to develop and grow. But the good news is that in many cases this trend toward diabetes is, in fact, usually reversible
So how do you know if diabetes is in your future? It’s all about risk factors and lab tests which can tell you where the lifestyle road you are on leads. Here a few risk factors to consider:
RISK FACTOR #1: BEING OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE
Over 40% of the adult population in the United States is obese and another estimated 30% is overweight. Incredible, as this is the number one predisposing factor for developing adult-onset diabetes! It is also almost completely preventable!
Fat cells increase insulin resistance, meaning your pancreas (the gland that produces insulin) has to work much harder to control blood glucose (commonly called “blood sugar”) levels. Compound this with the fact that most obese / and or overweight people typically eat too many carbohydrates, and it results in strain on the blood sugar/insulin control system.
The single, best, most effective thing you can do to reduce the risk of adult-onset diabetes is to stay lean! And, if you not only maintain low body fat levels but also build muscle, that is another level of diabetes protection as muscle tissue helps to normalize blood sugar levels.
RISK FACTOR #2: INCREASED FASTING BLOOD GLUCOSE (SUGAR) LEVELS
After a 12 hour fast, blood sugar level should be less than 100 mg/dl, although many doctors prefer more optimal ranges in the 70’s or 80’s. A fasting blood sugar level of 100-125 mg/dl indicates “prediabetes”, and a level of over 125 mg/dl is indicative of diabetes. It’s a good idea to get your fasting blood glucose level checked regularly to observe any trends which can then allow you to take more aggressive preventative action.
RISK FACTOR #3: STEADY INCREASES IN YOU HA1C
One of the best tests to monitor long-term blood sugar status is the Hemoglobin A1C blood test (HA1C). This simple test shows what the average blood sugar levels are over 90 days. Why is this test so important and often more of an indicator than fasting blood sugar tests? Because in some cases the fasting blood sugar level can be normal, when in fact there is an issue controlling blood sugar levels. In this case, fasting blood sugar levels are below 100 mg/dl, but when the person eats the blood sugar goes up higher than it should and or stays higher longer than it should, indicating a dulled response to insulin, or lack of adequate insulin secretion. The normal range HA1C is 4 -5.6%, the “prediabetic range” is 5.7- 6.4%, and levels greater than 6.5% indicate diabetes. This is a simple blood test that should be monitored regularly, along with the fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels.
RISK FACTOR #4: HAVING A HISTORY OF HYPOGLYCEMIA
As counterintuitive as it may sound, having a history of reactive hypoglycemia, that is or low blood sugar which occurs a few hours after a meal, is actually a predisposing factor to developing diabetes (which is hyperglycemia). Issues with insulin response and blood sugar regulation are the issue. There are varying degrees of hypoglycemia, which in a worst-case scenario can be life-threatening, but common symptoms of hypoglycemia include feeling shaky, sweating or feeling clammy, anxiety or confusion, irritability, and dizziness. If you are or have been experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor for diagnostic testing.
STEMMING THE TIDE: HALTING THE PROGRESSION OF PREDIABETES
People don’t come down with diabetes overnight––it takes years of consistent metabolic stress in terms of higher body fat levels, trending higher blood sugar levels, poor dietary habits (meaning too many carbs and/or simple carbs), and a sedentary lifestyle to allow this disease to develop.
The great news is that the trends which measure insulin sensitivity, and whether or not we are on the road headed toward diabetes, are easy and inexpensive to measure. In addition, efforts to prevent the onset of full-blown diabetes have a great degree of success. The bottom line? Reducing the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes is simple: stay lean, eat lean, avoid junk foods and simple carbs, build or maintain lean body mass (muscle), stay active, and exercise regularly. In the case of adult-onset diabetes, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!
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