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Controlling Diabetes: It Might Just Save Your Life

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

Diabetes is a killer, literally. And a sneaky one at that. Haven’t you heard that no one dies from diabetes?

Well, that’s false.

Diabetes is exerting a huge toll in America. There are 20.8 million people in the United States who have diabetes, yet 6.2 million are unaware that they have the disease.

Racial and ethnic minority groups, especially the elderly among these populations, are disproportionately affected by diabetes. On average, African Americans are 2.4 times as likely to have diabetes as Whites. As of 2002, two million Hispanic adults, 20 years and older, about 8.2 percent of the population, have diabetes. American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.3 times as likely as non-Hispanic Whites of similar age to have diabetes. And, diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death in the Asian American and Pacific Islander population.

The real death toll from diabetes is not actually known. Often, when a patient dies, the cause of death that is registered is typically a heart attack, or kidney failure… but the underlying cause was actually diabetes.

An Ounce of Prevention

Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. It can lead to serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications.

With diabetes, the statement that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure rings truer than ever. It is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, and total health care and related costs for the treatment of diabetes run about $132 billion annually.

Guess what are the risk factors for diabetes? Poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and obesity. You saw that coming, didn’t you?

Findings from the CDC's Diabetes Prevention Program showed that a healthy diet, which includes fruits and vegetables and exercise, can reduce the risk for developing diabetes in high-risk populations.

Diabetes contributes to many health problems — including heart disease, kidney failure, leg and foot amputations, and blindness — that often result in disability and death.
But this is a self-managed disease, so responsibility is the key. People with diabetes need to be informed about the disease, and take diabetes medicine as prescribed and test blood glucose levels.

The chances of having complications from diabetes can be reduced or delayed significantly by keeping blood glucose (blood sugar), blood pressure, and cholesterol levels (called the ABCs of Diabetes) in the target range.

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) recommends the following targets for reducing risk of heart disease and stroke for people with diabetes:

A1C (Blood Glucose)
Less than 7 percent (check at least twice a year)

Blood Pressure
Less than 120/80 mmHg (check every doctor’s visit)

Cholesterol (LDL)
Less than 100 mg/dl (check once a year)

Also, what works on the prevention stage is twice as important in the management of the disease: eating healthy foods and being physically active.
Some of the symptoms of untreated diabetes include constant thirst and a dry mouth; passing large amounts of urine especially during the night; blurred vision; weight loss; and fatigue.

Good Foods to Fight Diabetes

Carotenoids, found in foods such as carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, apricots, collards, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, and corn, seem to protect against the development of type 2 diabetes (Diabetes Care, Exit Disclaimer 2004, vol. 27, no. 2).

Chromium, a mineral found in broccoli, whole grains, shellfish, mushrooms, and brewer’s yeast, enhances the action of insulin, the hormone that transports glucose to the cells.

Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004, vol. 79, no. 5). Exposure to sunlight is the most efficient way to get vitamin D. It is also added to some cow and soy milks, and you can get some vitamin D from fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.

Vitamin E, an antioxidant, can reduce type 2 diabetes risk (Diabetes Care, 2004, vol. 27, no. 2). Vitamin E–packed foods include broccoli, avocados, almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.

This is a very new tool where people could go and find all the information they need to make healthy and smart choices for eating, tips to add physical activity to their lives, and create a plan to live by. MyPyramid's central message is "Steps to a Healthier You." MyPyramid replaces the Food Guide Pyramid introduced in 1992, and is part of an overall food guidance system that emphasizes the need for a more individualized approach to improving diet and lifestyle.

Diabetes, an Interactive Tutorial
Interactive tool for patient education.

5 A Day
5 A Day for Better Health is a national program and partnership that seeks to increase the number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables Americans eat to five or more.

Diabetes Care Exit Disclaimer
A journal by the American Diabetes Association

Content Last Modified: 4/16/2007 9:05:00 AM
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