How can a canary help you to avoid diabetes? We’ll get to that in a minute. As we are just getting started in this venture, I wanted to write some advice. As I wrote in my welcome post, my goal with creating this site is to help you to live longer and better with diabetes. Looking at several blogs and informational sites across the internet a pattern emerges. Newly diagnosed patients, family and friends don’t know where to start, and are often faced with information overload. There are several excellent websites and forums available, one that I viewed has over 100,000 members and hundreds of thousands of posts. This is a little daunting, both to navigate and consume.
Glucose is the Key
Let’s start with glucose. Glucose is sugar, also referred to as blood glucose, it is the preferred energy source for cells. Managing your glucose is the key to living well with diabetes, if you ignore it and hope it will go away it will bite you. Or worse.
So how do you manage your glucose? First lets describe how glucose is used. Glucose if coming from food will be present in the bloodstream. When a meal is consumed the pancreas will release insulin, this tells cells that glucose is available, and cells then begin taking the glucose out of the blood and using it for energy or storing it. In diabetes something is wrong, but exactly what depends on the type of diabetes you have, and how far along you are in that disease process. In this article, I’ll mainly discuss prediabetes, diabetes type I and II. For more information on the types of diabetes look here.
Diabetes Type I
In type I diabetes, you have lost the ability to produce insulin on your own, you will always need supplemental insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, it allows the cells to import the glucose so that it can be used or stored. In type I diabetes, the insulin producing cells are destroyed and the body has no ability to regenerate them. In type one your doctor will prescribe insulin, sometimes several types to be taken at different times of the day. If the patient with type I diabetes ignores their condition, complications and death can result relatively quickly.
Diabetes Type II
In type II diabetes your cells are becoming resistant to insulin. You are still producing insulin, and can still take up the glucose on your own, but you may require medication to assist. There are different types of medication depending on where you are on the spectrum of type II. Type II patients range from diet controlled (no medication), to using metformin or anti hyperglycemics, all the way to taking insulin similar to type I diabetics.
One key difference between type I and type II is that there is no cure for type I and you cannot control type I with diet and exercise. With type II you may be able to manage your own blood sugar through diet and exercise. If you are faithful in adopting a diabetes friendly diet, and are exercising and otherwise healthy, you may be able to avoid taking medications for some time. Some patients go years with diabetes, but without taking any medication.
In type II, the progress of the disease can often be slowed and complications avoided. The key here again is glucose management. If your glucose begins spiking, then you may need to add or change medication. The higher the glucose is, the higher the chance that you will suffer from one or more diabetic complications.
In prediabetes your pancreas is still producing insulin, but the cells are no longer responding to it as promptly as they should. This is called insulin resistance, as the cells are resisting the insulin. So in this scenario, you have plenty (or too much) glucose in the bloodstream, but the cells only recognize that part of the glucose is available. Kind if like going to the fridge and eating a microwave dinner because you didn’t realize that there was a meal already on the table.
Prediabetes stops where diabetes type II begins. They run together like a continuous spectrum, but once you cross into type II diabetes, you usually don’t cross back. With prediabetes your blood glucose is higher than normal, but not high enough to meet the technical diagnosis of diabetes type II. Have you heard of a canary in a mineshaft? Miners in days gone by would place canaries along the path inside the mine. Mines being deep in the earth would sometimes tap into methane gas, as it is odorless and deadly, miners were very interested in knowing when it was present. The methane would come into the mind shaft, and would kill the canaries. So if the canaries were dead, or stopped singing, the miners knew to get out of the mine. If you have prediabetes, you have literally seen the dead canaries. Prediabetes can be managed with diet and exercise, but without lifestyle change you are at high risk of developing diabetes type II.
Living with Abundance
It is easier to give advice than to follow it. One thing I noticed in residency (advanced medical and surgical training for doctors) was how hard it was for patients to reduce their glucose. If you are reading this from the first world, then you are blessed with the problem of abundance. We literally have too many delicious and glucose rich choices when dining. And not just when dining out or at mealtime, we have many opportunities to snack throughout the day. It is a challenge to moderate your diet when surrounded by so many sugary choices, but it can be done.
My recommendation is to read this article, and to seek out more information about your form of diabetes. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your disease, the higher chance you have of effecting change in your life. As you learn more, you will be able to better participate in treatment decisions with your doctor, and will better understand the necessity of a given therapy.