The diabetes epidemic affects millions of American households, and controlling diabetes risk factors is an important part of everyday living for people of all ages. Fortunately, there are key ways to reduce your diabetes risk factors that are also extremely helpful–even if you have already been diagnosed.

Key Factors in Preventing and Managing Diabetes

Here are the top three things you should discuss with a dietitian to prevent or manage diabetes:

  • Healthy eating
  • Physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

There are numerous factors in play in diabetes of all types, so these three things are not silver bullets, but they make a tremendous difference when you’re trying to avoid the negative consequences of diabetes.

The Extent of the Diabetes Epidemic

Diabetes is a serious disease that affects roughly 29.1 million Americans, 8.1 million of whom are undiagnosed. In North Carolina, 9.7% of the population has been diagnosed with one form of diabetes, and it was the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2010.

Even though doctors, dietitians, and other healthcare professionals can help patients with diabetes or diabetes risk factors to control or prevent this serious illness, the number of Americans who struggle with it is growing. Between 1980 and 2012, the number of diabetes diagnoses quadrupled in American adults, and if current trends continue,

The CDC predicts that 1 in 3 Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

If the diabetes epidemic continues, one in three people will have the condition by 2050.

Tackling it Head-On

With all these disturbing facts, it can be scary to tackle your diabetes risk factors head-on or get tested for diabetic symptoms, but early detection and treatment significantly reduces long-term negative outcomes associated with the condition. That is why it’s critically important for all people to get routine screening and to manage lifestyle-related diabetes risk factors with the help of a dietitian or other healthcare professional.

The Basics – Type 1, Type 2, Pre-Diabetes, and Gestational Diabetes

“Diabetes milletus” is the medical term for all forms of diabetes. At its very core, diabetes is characterized by an excess of sugar (glucose) in the blood, which can lead to serious health complications. Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy, but having too much of it in your bloodstream can cause damage to the heart, nerves, kidneys, and other critical systems in your body.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are irreversible, but they can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. Pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes are also caused by elevated levels of glucose in the blood, but they are reversible.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that is typically diagnosed in children and young adults, and it’s caused by the body not producing a hormone called insulin. Insulin is very important because it converts the sugars and starches in food into energy so that the body can function. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin to do this vital task, and so most people with type 1 diabetes manage the condition with insulin therapy and other treatments.

Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors:

  • Family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Environmental factors, such as viral infections at an early age
  • Presence of diabetes autoantibodies. The presence of these immune cells are associated with a higher risk for developing type 1 diabetes
  • Dietary factors, including vitamin D deficiency, consuming cow’s milk-based products early in life, and eating cereal before 4 months of age, appear to heighten the risk of type 1 diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes and Pre-diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, making up about 95% of people with an official diagnosis. Type 2 diabetes is also called “adult-onset diabetes” because most people develop it once they reach maturity, but sometimes young people can develop the disease as well.

With type 2 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin to keep up with your body’s blood sugar levels. At first, the body will produce more insulin to keep your blood sugar levels in check, but over time your pancreas (which makes insulin) simply cannot keep pace.

Pre-diabetes is the term used when a person has higher-than-average blood sugar levels, but not yet high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Without intervention and healthy lifestyle changes, pre-diabetes can progress into type 2 diabetes within 10 years. People with pre-diabetes may also start to suffer from long-term heart damage and circulatory issues that are a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, although many times pre-diabetes has no symptoms.

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors:

  • Weight. Excess fat makes your body resistant to insulin
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Inactivity. Exercise keeps your weight under control and also uses up glucose and increases your body’s ability to use insulin
  • Race. People who are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian-American are at higher risk
  • High blood pressure
  • Low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL)
  • High levels of triglycerides (a fat) in the blood
  • Age. Older people are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman develops higher than normal blood sugar during pregnancy. The causes of this condition are unknown, and approximately 9.2% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes can elevate both the mother and child’s risk for type 2 diabetes in the future.

Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors:

  • Age. Women over age 25 are at higher risk for gestational diabetes
  • Family or personal history of gestational diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • Weight. Being overweight increases the risk for gestational diabetes
  • Race. The same racial groups at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes also experience higher rates of gestational diabetes

Lifestyle Changes and Diabetes Prevention and Management

Although many people with diabetes need medication to control their condition, almost all people can reduce their risk for developing the disease or improve their long-term outcomes by adopting a healthy diet, active lifestyle, and losing weight.

If you are concerned about diabetes, meeting with a registered dietitian can enable you to devise a fitness and eating plan to help manage your diabetes –or cut your risk of developing it in the first place!

Busting Type 2 Diabetes Myths

There are a lot of common misconceptions about diabetes, and it’s important to bust these myths so that you can think realistically about this disease and its impact on your life. For example, some people think that children with type 1 diabetes cannot live long, happy lives, but with proper child nutrition and management, nothing could be further from the truth!

Here are some common type 2 diabetes myths to bust.

  • All overweight people eventually develop diabetes. Being at a healthy weight does reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, but other diabetes risk factors also play an important role in developing the illness.
  • If you have type 2 diabetes and need to use insulin, you’re not managing your condition properly. Although a healthy diet and exercise can go a long way toward managing diabetes, over time your body produces less insulin overall, and so adding insulin injections to your routine is not a sign that you’re failing in any way to control your diabetes.
  • People with diabetes need to avoid all sweets. This is simply not true! Like with any healthy diet, sweets should represent only a small portion of calories overall, but people with diabetes can enjoy sweet foods. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all people avoid sugary beverages like soda and punch to keep blood sugar levels in check, but having a treat from time to time as a part of a healthy eating plan is not off-limits.
  • People with diabetes are more susceptible to colds and other common bugs. Although people with diabetes are advised to get the flu shot, they are not more likely to get common viruses than other people.
  • Diabetes isn’t serious. Diabetes is one of the leading killers of American adults, and its long-term health impacts cannot be understated. Although a diagnosis of diabetes is far from being the end of the world, it’s important to seek treatment and consult a dietitian about managing lifestyle factors that make the disease worse.