Preventing Diabetes Pt. 1

Why it’s a Problem

For each of us, as we grow older we become more aware of health concerns.  Things that used to never hurt now present with daily aches.  Over time those little problems become bigger problems, and soon we realize we don’t want any new problems.  A common question people ask me is “Doctor, my dad has diabetes, his dad had it, too. What can I do to prevent that from happening to me?”  In this article we look at why diabetes is a problem and next week we’ll look at what can be done to prevent it.

First, what is diabetes?  There are two main types – Type I is where our immune system attacks the cells in our body that make insulin.  This usually occurs in children and adolescents.   We need insulin to control our blood sugar.   Type II diabetes, which is far more common, occurs when the body produces insulin but doesn’t react to it as well as it should, so the body releases more and more insulin to get the same job done.  It’s like having a hearing problem and needing to turn up the TV volume louder and louder.  In this situation, our bodies gradually lose the ability to handle sugar properly, and the sugar levels in our blood start to build up.

One problem with high blood sugar is that it causes inflammation in our blood vessels.  Inflamed vessels swell, but because of the strong vessel wall on the outside of the vessel, the vessel swells inwards, reducing the amount of blood that can flow through the tube.  As this swelling occurs, everything downstream from the swelling – nerves, kidneys, muscle cells – receive less nutrition and oxygen, as well as less visits from the repair cells in the blood.  They start losing their function, resulting in neuropathy, kidney disease, blindness, heart disease, and strokes. 

Another Problem with high blood sugar is that, as the body tries to control it, the body has to release large amounts of insulin.  Insulin is a hormone with many side effects, including driving blood sugar into fat cells for storage.  High amounts of insulin cause your body to create more and larger fat cells.  In other words, the more insulin you release, the more weight you gain.  This is not just because of the number of calories you are taking in (although that is also a contributor), but to the body’s response to the type of calories you are taking in.