Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.
November is National Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a serious chronic disease — and at Planned Parenthood Arizona, we can screen you for diabetes and help you get necessary treatment if you are diagnosed with it. The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for anyone more than 45 years of age, as well as younger people who have risk factors.
At Planned Parenthood, we can screen you for diabetes; at home, you can take steps to prevent it.
What Is Diabetes?
The human body creates glucose (a type of sugar) from our food, which it breaks down into tiny molecules. Insulin, a hormone that is created in the pancreas, enters the bloodstream and enables glucose to enter our body’s cells — which use glucose as fuel. Diabetes occurs when blood glucose becomes too high and the body is unable to regulate it; this lack of regulation results in damaged tissues, leading to long-term health concerns.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, which is characterized by the pancreas’ inability to produce enough insulin; and Type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas can continue to produce insulin, but the body’s cells aren’t able to utilize it. Those with Type 1 diabetes commonly encounter issues with frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, extreme fatigue, and blurred vision. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes may experience any of those symptoms, as well as slow-healing cuts and bruises, frequent infections, and areas of darkened skin. Heart disease is also a serious concern; an individual with diabetes has more than twice the chance of a heart attack. While some people with Type 2 diabetes experience no apparent symptoms, it can result in death if the disorder is not monitored and controlled effectively.
Normally, insulin production is triggered when blood glucose rises after a meal. In Type 2 diabetes, however, cells gradually develop a resistance to insulin as the levels increase. While consuming sugar itself does not cause diabetes, obesity might trigger it as a result of other changes that take place in the body. The beta cells in the pancreas secrete additional insulin to adjust for the insulin resistance, leading to increased levels of the hormone. Diabetes results when our cells remain resistant to glucose or our pancreases aren’t able to produce enough insulin to regulate the blood’s glucose level.
What Are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes was once referred to as adult onset diabetes; however, the disorder may begin at any age and there has been an increase in diagnoses for children and adolescents. Most cases still begin later in life; of Americans 65 or older, 20 percent are diabetic. Those who had gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, are at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later, and genetic factors can play a role. People of African American, Mexican American, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Alaska Native descent are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
Increased blood glucose levels not high enough to constitute diabetes is referred to as prediabetes, which increases the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Prediabetes is becoming more common in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 1 in 4 American adults more than 20 years of age — or 57 million people — had prediabetes in 2007.
How Can Diabetes Be Prevented?
Those with prediabetes are likely to develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years, unless they take steps to prevent or delay it. A federally funded study, the Diabetes Prevention Program, included more than 3,234 people. Those in risk groups who altered their lifestyle reduced their risk by 58 percent, while another group only taking metformin, a medication that controls blood glucose levels, saw a 31 percent reduction. Those who made the lifestyle changes and were over 60 years old saw a 71 percent reduction.
Lifestyle changes that can help prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes include:
- Dietary changes: Rather than resorting to fad diets, making wise food decisions plays a large role in delaying or preventing Type 2 diabetes. Fiber helps control blood glucose levels, so aim to include 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume. However, there is no special “diabetes” diet — the type of diet that can help prevent diabetes is a healthy diet for anyone, which, according to the American Diabetes Association, is “low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit.” Additionally, many people might be helped by improving their relationship with food by learning to recognize hunger and fullness cues.
- Exercise: Most health experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day; exercise can include swimming, bike rides, or brisk walks. It can also include physical activity with friends, such as tennis or basketball, which many people might find more enjoyable than exercising alone.
- Weight loss: A healthy diet and physical activity help you attain a lifestyle that will, over time, produce a healthy weight for you as an individual. While not everyone with diabetes is overweight (and while not all overweight people will develop diabetes), weight loss in overweight people can assist the body in using and regulating insulin more effectively. It is important to maintain a focus on a healthful diet and physical activity rather than to prioritize weight loss as a primary goal.
If you’re interested in diabetes screening, you can schedule an appointment at your local Planned Parenthood health center. Diabetes screening includes taking a thorough history for signs and symptoms, as well as a blood test to check glucose levels. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, we can refer you to a specialist to help you manage your condition. You can find more information about diabetes at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website.