November is Diabetes Awareness Month and nutrition director for Tennova Healthcare – Harton Angie Sowers encourages local residents to learn about the disease, which can, in many cases, be prevented.
A registered dietitian, Sowers oversees the daily operations related to nutritional services of the hospital, including food sanitation and preparation of food plans for patients.
“I also screen patients clinically,” Sowers said. “I may get a physician order to see a patient, but there are other criteria that I look for to see a patient.”
As a healthy diet is very important for managing diabetes, many of the patients Sowers sees are diabetics.
However, Sowers said, it’s important to be proactive and learn about diabetes even if you’re not diagnosed with the disease because, in many cases, diabetes can be prevented.
Learn about diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body turns food into energy.
In the body, food is broken down into sugar, also called glucose, and released into the bloodstream. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which acts like a key to let the blood sugar into the body’s cells for use as energy. Diabetes occurs when the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should.
With the lack of enough insulin, or when the cells don’t respond to insulin, too much sugar stays in the bloodstream. Over time, the excess can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease and loss of vision.
While there isn’t a cure for diabetes yet, its impact can be reduced by learning how to manage the disease, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits and taking medicine as needed.
Types of diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes.
“A person with Type 1 is totally dependent on insulin,” Sowers said.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops the body from making insulin. About 5 percent of the people who have diabetes have Type 1, according to CDC.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes develop quickly. It’s usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to survive. Currently, it’s not known how to prevent Type 1 diabetes.
“Type 2 the most common,” Sowers said. “Type 2 is preventable, if people would stay active, stay healthy, eat a balanced diet and keep their weight in a semi-normal range. If you do those things, you will limit your risk factors.”
With Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults, according to CDC.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity.
Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women who have never had diabetes but develop the disease because of the extra stress the body undergoes during pregnancy, said Sowers. Though the gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, having it increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life.
“Most of the cases will be resolved when they deliver the baby, but the women will be at a higher risk for developing Type 2, if they are not eating a balanced diet and keeping their weight under control,” Sowers said.
Additionally, the baby born to a gestational diabetic is more likely to become obese as a child or teen, and is more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
In the US, more than 84 million adults have prediabetes, and 90 percent of them don’t know they have it, according to CDC.
Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
By the numbers
Diabetes is seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
As the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes in the last 20 years has more than tripled.
More than 30 million adults in the U.S. have diabetes - and 25 percent of them don’t know they have it.
“Type 2 is preventable,” Sowers said.
A healthy lifestyle can cut the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes by more than 50 percent, according to CDC.
To limit the risks of developing type 2, Sowers encourages everyone to eat a healthy diet, stay active, exercise, keep their weight under control and limit alcohol consumption.
She specifically urges those who are at a higher risk of developing diabetes to pay attention to their diet.
“As we age, our organs age, including our pancreas,” Sowers said. “So the pancreas gets tired and sluggish and needs a little help. Sometimes, your genes make you more prone to developing diabetes. If you can put the brakes on it, that’s better for you in the long run.”
The first step to a healthy diet is learning about nutrition and how it affects the body. Sowers stressed that everyone is different and, in order to be effective, a diet plan should be personalized.
“The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher the blood sugar goes,” Sowers said. “Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel, so we have to have them; they are only a problem if we overdo them.
“When we’re are talking about carbohydrates, we are talking about things like milk, bread, potatoes, pasta, sodas, sweet tea, candy, cookies, ice cream – all those concentrated sweets. But also, we are talking about things like fruit.”
Starting in January, Sowers will offer free classes for the community once a month.
Learn more about developing a healthy diet by visiting www.eatright.org.
Elena Cawley may be reached at email@example.com.