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The Deal with Diabetes

Learn How it Affects You

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietician

What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that causes high blood sugar levels. It is a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured. It does not go away. Knowing as much as you can about the disease is the first step to managing it effectively.

What’s Going On
Much of the food you eat is digested and changed into glucose. Glucose is the body’s main energy source. It is carried through the blood stream into the body’s cells. Once inside the cells, glucose is converted into energy. Insulin helps glucose get into the cells. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that attaches to cells in the body and opens the cells, allowing glucose to get inside and be converted.

Diabetes is caused by a breakdown in this process. Insulin is either absent or poorly used, so glucose stays in the bloodstream. Glucose that stays in the bloodstream causes blood glucose levels to rise. <pagebreak>

Types of Diabetes
There are three types of diabetes. Each type occurs for a different reason. All three types cause high blood glucose levels.

  • Type 1 Diabetes – The immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The cells stop making insulin, meaning that the body can’t use glucose for energy. That is why people with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections every day to stay alive.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – The pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body cannot use insulin properly, or, in many cases, it is a combination of both. Because of this, glucose is unable to get into the body cells to be used for energy. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes a food plan and exercise. Sometimes diabetes pills or insulin injections are needed.
  • Gestational Diabetes – In some women, the hormonal changes of the third trimester of pregnancy demand more insulin than the body can make. Sometimes, blood glucose levels can be controlled with a food plan and exercise. If not, then insulin injections or a diabetes pill may be needed during the pregnancy.
What This Means For Your Health
When the body lacks insulin and cannot use glucose for energy, it may start to burn fat. Fat is the body’s second source of energy, after glucose. Burning fat may seem like a good thing, but it can create a buildup of acids in the urine and blood called ketones. Ketones are a sign that your blood glucose level may be very high. This can cause a serious chemical imbalance in your body.

Blood glucose control is your primary treatment goal. If blood glucose is very high over a long period of time, you can have other health problems, such as blindness, amputation, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure. You can help prevent this from happening by following a diabetes treatment plan. Your treatment plan is based on what your body needs. By working with your doctor, dietitian, and/or Certified Diabetes Educator, you will learn about the type of medication you need, as well as develop individualized food and activity plans.

When you work with your doctor, dietitian and/or certified diabetes educator, you will develop a personal food plan that usually includes three meals per day. It may also include 1-2 snacks. It is an individual plan because it is based on what and when you like to eat, your lifestyle and your health needs.
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Amy L. Poetker, MS, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.
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