What Is It?
Diabetes is a condition where our bodies have difficulty using the glucose from our diet. The most common type, called type 2 diabetes, is related to being overweight, eating a suboptimal diet, and not getting enough exercise. There are many factors that play a role, but the main cause of type 2 diabetes is something called insulin resistance. Our pancreas makes insulin, which is an important hormone that gets glucose into our cells to be used as fuel. When insulin doesn’t do its job well due to excess fat build-up in our muscle and liver cells, we have developed insulin resistance, and glucose levels rise in our blood stream. The chronically high glucose levels and the other effects of a poor diet and exercise pattern then leads to a host of problems associated with diabetes – heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, loss of sensation in the toes and feet, blindness, etc.
How Big Is The Problem?
Diabetes is a major deal. About 10% of the US has diabetes (somewhere around 34 million people), 95% of it is type 2 diabetes. Approximately 20% of people living with diabetes don’t know they have it (that’s about 7 million people). Roughly 33% of the US population has pre-diabetes, somewhere around 88 million people. A whopping 90% of people that are pre-diabetic don’t know it (mostly because people with pre-diabetes don’t have any symptoms). That means there are around 80 million people in the US walking around with pre-diabetes and don’t know it.
What Are The Risk Factors?
Risk factors include being overweight or obese, eating a standard American diet, being less physically active, smoking tobacco, drinking excess alcohol, getting poor sleep, and having certain genes (African Americans, Latinx, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Asians all have higher rates).
How Do We Diagnose It?
The best thing you can do is to get a simple blood test. Everyone who is at least 45 years old should be tested, and younger people with the above risk factors should be tested, as well. A fasting blood glucose level is checked as a blood draw at least 8 hours after your last meal. Normal is a value less than 100. Pre-diabetes values are between 100-125, and diabetes range is 126 and above. Another way to screen is to look at a test called a hemoglobin A1c. This is a value that looks at the average blood sugar level over the last 3 months. A normal result is less than 5.7. Pre-diabetes values are in the 5.7-6.4 range, and diabetes range is 6.5 and above. Another test less often used is a glucose tolerance test, where your provider has you drink a sweet drink and check your sugars over the following two hours.
What Can We Do About it?
This is the best part – the good news! In contrast to an expensive pill or procedure, the best way to avoid, treat and reverse diabetes is to change our lifestyles. Switching to a healthy plant-based diet removes the high saturated fat and simple-carb containing foods and replaces them with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas), mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. This diet can easily lead to weight loss, and we know that a 7% weight loss can help reverse diabetes, especially when paired with around 150 minutes of exercise per week. So, ready to give it a shot? For more resources, check out this great info from our friends at PCRM: