We learned in the previous post that diabetes is a chronic disease. But what is diabetes exactly?
Let’s start by talking about the body when it’s business as usual. When there are above normal glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, this is the pancreas’ cue to start secreting insulin. This insulin (a hormone) in turn tells other organs to start absorbing glucose from the blood.
What’s the liver got to do with it?
When the liver, an organ resting in your upper abdomen starts sensing the insulin in the blood, it starts packaging up glucose and storing it in its cells in a new form called glucagon. As the glucose levels in your blood drop, this signals the pancreas to stop secreting insulin, which then tells the liver to stop packaging up the glucose and it starts breaking it back down.
According to Diabetes Canada there are 11 million Canadians living with diabetes and prediabetes. Canada’s population is approximately 35 million! That means approximately 1 in three people will be affected.
There are two types of diabetes:
Diabetes type I
An individual with type I diabetes cannot properly produce insulin and therefore, their body cannot properly control glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. This type of diabetes generally develops in childhood but can develop in early adulthood. Treatment of this type is usually insulin, diet and physical exercise.
Diabetes type II
An individual with type II diabetes cannot properly use the insulin that it produces therefore, their body also cannot properly control glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. This type of diabetes is likely to develop in adulthood. Treatment of this type is usually oral pills, diet and exercise but sometimes can include insulin.
How does diabetes effect the body?
That pesky glucose molecule is not so nice to your body if found in large amounts. Glucose causes damage to your tiny blood vessels (capillaries) by making them ‘leaky’. It is also helpful to think of glucose and cholesterol as close friends. Glucose helps fat deposits stick to the sides of your larger blood vessels decreasing blood flow by creating deposits or hardening the lining of these blood vessels. With this background, it helps better understand how high blood sugar effects the following systems.
Your eyes contain the tiniest capillaries and, as mentioned before, glucose causes capillaries to become leaky. When your capillaries in your eyes become leaky, this causes extra fluid in your eyes which in turn increases pressure. Due to this, people with diabetes are at higher risk for changes in vision and glaucoma. It is important to have regular eye screening check-ups annually to monitor and prevent damage.
Having diabetes puts you more at risk for having a stroke. This is because it both damages the tiny capillaries in your brain but also because it might block them with fat deposits.
Because the excess glucose can cause fat deposits and narrowing of the blood vessels, this could cause the heart to have to work harder and therefore causes high blood pressure.
Glucose can also damage the filtration system in your kidneys causing protein in your urine. People who have diabetes should also closely monitor their kidney function. Especially if they have poorly controlled blood sugars.
Central nervous system
Excess glucose can cause nerve damage. This means that diabetics can develop a decrease in feeling of their extremities. Some diabetics cannot feel the bottoms of their feet. This means that they should do daily skin checks and remember to thoroughly dry their feet after washing. Because glucose impairs blood flow, it also decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients getting to these tissues. If someone were to develop an abrasion, they would experience longer than normal healing time and an increased risk of infection.
So, what’s the bottom line here?
Prevention is key. Avoid developing diabetes through diet, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle.
If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, you now know the importance of maintaining good blood glucose control to prevent damage to your other organs. This can be done through taking your medication and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Further, it is important to monitor:
- Blood sugar every 3 months through your family doctor
- Blood pressure annually (if it is normal)
- Kidney function annually (if it is normal)
- Eye exams annually
- Check your feet every day
You hold the key to your health! Educating yourself on risk factors and modifying your behaviour as necessary is the cornerstone to preventing disease. Let us know if we can help!