Diabetes – most people have heard of this health condition before. Maybe you saw a commercial on TV, a family member may have it, or your doctor may have mentioned it. Whether you are curious about prevention or have been diagnosed with prediabetes, you’re in the right place. Brook is here to demystify diabetes and support you on your health journey.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover some concrete steps you can take to reduce your risk of diabetes. Each week will have a specific focus, and you’ll chat with the Brook Experts to set your goal, stay motivated, and stay accountable.
Welcome to Week 1, where we’ll go over the basics about diabetes and lay down the foundation to find what works best for you and your day-to-day life.
There’s a lot of myths floating around about diabetes. Let’s debunk a few.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects more than 34 million Americans. It’s estimated that 88 million more people have prediabetes, many without even knowing it. There are multiple types of diabetes, but today we’ll cover the most common one, type 2.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are diagnosed when blood sugar is consistently high (known as hyperglycemia). So how does high blood sugar happen?
When we eat and begin to digest food, our blood sugar begins to rise. Sugar doesn’t do us any good when it’s in the blood, it needs to be moved into our cells so it can be used for energy. When our pancreas senses there is sugar in the blood, it releases a hormone called insulin. See, insulin acts a messenger, telling our cells that sugar is nearby, in the blood, and that the cells should open their doors and let the sugar in. The sugar moves into the cells, making the sugar level in our blood go down. This happens day in and day out as we eat each meal. Insulin acts as a messenger, signaling the cells to allow sugar to move from the blood into the cell. Our blood sugar will then lower to a baseline level until we eat again.
In the case of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar occurs because our cells don’t respond as well to insulin anymore. The insulin is there saying “open your doors and let the sugar in,” but the cells aren’t listening. This causes sugar to stay in the blood longer and build up. The term for this is “insulin resistance” as it is quite literally cells being resistant to insulin’s message. Insulin resistance is the cause of type 2 diabetes.
When insulin resistance is happening in our bodies, our pancreas tries to fix the problem by making more and more insulin so the cells get the message and open up to allow sugar in. Eventually, the pancreas gets tired of working overtime and can’t keep up with the body’s demand for more and more insulin as blood sugar remains high, meal after meal. This is often referred to as “pancreatic exhaustion.” When this happens, the pancreas stops working as well, and not enough insulin can be produced. It’s at this stage that a person would start requiring an insulin medication.
The short answer is: we don’t really know for sure. Research has shown that multiple factors seem to contribute to insulin resistance occurring. These factors can include:
Over the next few weeks we will be going through the actions you can take to become more sensitive to insulin and bring your blood sugar into a safe range.
The insulin resistance that leads to diabetes doesn’t happen overnight. The more risk factors we have in our lives overtime, the quicker insulin resistance builds, leading to diabetes. The good news is most of these risk factors are under our control. Over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing how to make sustainable changes to lifestyle habits that can reduce risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Those changes also help keep your blood sugar consistently steady, which helps avoid the rollercoaster of energy spikes and crashes that can occur throughout the day.
If you’d like to know more specifics about how high blood sugar can lead to health problems like kidney disease or nerve damage, read about it here.
One of the first steps for diabetes prevention is monitoring your blood sugar regularly, usually during yearly doctor visits. This typically includes lab tests at healthcare appointments that measure both a fasting blood sugar and Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c or HgA1c). The A1c test measures the percent of hemoglobin (part of the red blood cell) that has sugar attached. Red blood cells have a life cycle of around 3 months, so a higher A1c means that blood sugar has been higher during that time. We can lower our A1c with consistently keeping blood sugar in a healthier range.
If you have prediabetes, you may be managing your blood sugar using medication and taking prescribed medications consistently is an important part of your care plan. On Brook, you can set up your medication schedule by entering when you take certain medications and supplements by time of day and days of the week. Brook will save that information for easy logging. You can even set up reminders so you can easily remember which medications to take and at what times.
on September 23, 2020. Emily is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Brook Experts.