Diabetes or more commonly “Blood Sugar Problem” seems to be turning into a global health concern across ages and social groups. Contrary to myth, it is not a curse just for the elderly or the affluent. Diabetes or pre-diabetes is emerging as a menace even in seemingly ‘invincible’ age groups. Genetic predisposition, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, rising stress levels, bad food habits are established risk factors for the disease. Many people have these questions nagging them. “What is Diabetes? How does it happen? What exactly triggers it? What can be done to battle it? Can it be managed naturally? How to manage diabetes naturally? This write-up intends to address those questions that deal with various aspects of the disease.
What is Diabetes?
Broadly, diabetes is of two types – Diabetes mellitus and Diabetes insipidus. The most common form, the one we all know as the “blood sugar” issue is Diabetes mellitus and it is this type which has been discussed in this article. The word ‘Diabetes’ is derived from a Greek word which means ‘to siphon’ or ‘pass’ whereas the term ‘Mellitus’ traces its origin to a Latin word which means ‘honeyed.’ It was also known as the “pissing evil” since diabetes mellitus causes a spike in the level of sugar in blood as well as urine.
Diabetes is a condition in which the blood sugar level becomes high either due to inadequate production of insulin or because the body’s cells do not respond well to insulin or both.
According to International Diabetes Federation, an estimated 381 million people worldwide had diabetes. India is home to the largest number of diabetics (although some recent studies suggest China may have even more). According to WHO (World Health Organization), the global prevalence of diabetes in 2011 was 8% and is predicted to rise to 10% by 2030.
Signs and Symptoms
Diabetes is classically characterized by the symptoms of weight loss, increased urination (polydipsia), increased urination (polyuria), increased hunger (polyphagia). It can cause other symptoms like blurry vision, fatigue, delayed healing of cuts and sores, itching of the skin. Diabetes can also lead to a variety of skin changes.
Types of Diabetes
In general, there are three types of Diabetes – Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes.
Type-1 diabetes mellitus is marked by the loss of insulin-producing beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, resulting in insulin deficiency. It could either be auto- immune in nature whereby there is an immune-mediated attack on the Beta cells, leading to the cells of insulin. Type-1 diabetes accounts for approximately 10% of diabetes cases. This type usually affects child which is why it’s also known as “Juvenile Diabetes”
In this type, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not respond adequately to insulin. This type also used to be referred as adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. There is no cure for it but the condition can be reasonably well managed by lifestyle modification such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and exercising. If regulated lifestyle is not sufficient to manage the blood sugar level, then there arises a need for oral medications or insulin therapy. Lifestyle and genetic factors are known to play a role in the development of Type-2 Diabetes. Some factors are modifiable like diet and obesity whereas others are non-modifiable, such as advancing age and genetics.
This is a condition in which women without pre-existing diabetes exhibit high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. The placenta makes hormones during pregnancy which can lead to a rise in the level of blood sugar. Under normal circumstances, the pancreas can make enough insulin to deal with it. If that does not happen, blood sugar levels will rise. However, a woman can still have a healthy baby by following a doctor’s advice and taking care of simple things to manage blood sugar level.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is quite common in diabetics. Most cases do not constitute an emergency since they are mild and can be self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Low blood sugar levels can cause a wide variety of symptoms but main problems arise due to insufficient supply of glucose to the brain. Symptoms can range from general unease, trembling, palpitation, and sweating, even mental changes like confusion, seizures or even permanent brain damage.
Very serious cases must be treated with intravenous glucose or glucagon injections. Another significant complication of diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis which mostly affects people with Type-1 Diabetes. It is a kind of metabolic disturbance which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and the smell of acetone in breath, deep breathing known as Kussmaul breathing and in some extreme cases altered mental status. A majority of the cases could have been prevented by earlier diagnosis, better understanding between patients and the doctor and the better patient awareness.
Another rare but equally severe possibility is a hyperosmolar non-ketotic state which is mainly caused by dehydration and usually affects Type-2 diabetics.
All kinds of diabetes raise the risk of complications. Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Other diseases like stroke and peripheral vascular diseases are also seen to happen more in diabetics than non-diabetics. Diabetes can also lead to damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
Diabetes-related foot problems such as diabetic foot ulcers may occur.
Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Patients with pre-diabetes are at an increased risk of developing diabetes as well as for stroke and heart disease. Many people with pre-diabetes go on to develop diabetes within 10 years. But moderate exercise and weight loss can help delay or prevent Type-2 diabetes.
Diagnosis of diabetes and pre-diabetes is done with the help of blood tests because early in the disease the person may not exhibit any symptom at all. Lab investigations are needed to verify if the test results are accurate. Glucose measuring devices such as finger-stick devices are not accurate enough to give a diagnosis but can be used as a measure of high blood glucose.
Any of the following investigation can help us get a diagnosis:
- On the A1c test, also known as HbA1c, or glycohemoglobin test.
- A fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) test
- An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTI)
The goal of diabetes management is to keep blood glucose level as close to normal as possible without causing very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This can be achieved with proper exercise, healthy diet and if essential, appropriate medications (insulin for Type-1 diabetes, oral medications, and insulin for Type-2 diabetes). Care should be taken to address issues which can raise the chances of complications in diabetes such as smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Medications work by lowering the blood sugar level. There are different kinds of anti-diabetic medications. Some like metformin are taken by the oral route whereas insulin can only be given by injection. Type-1 diabetes can only be treated by insulin.
How to Manage Diabetes Naturally?
Yoga and breathing exercises are known to have a beneficial effect in diabetes. Regular practice of yoga can help reduce blood sugar levels, hypertension, weight and severity of complications. Some of the possible mechanisms by which yoga could be useful in Diabetes are:
- Weight loss stimulated by Yoga
- Yoga causes a reduction in the levels of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol in the blood thereby reducing stress and improving insulin function.
- Yoga promotes muscular relaxation and boosts blood supply to them, which in turn might enhance insulin receptor expression leading to an increased glucose uptake by muscles – thus reducing blood sugar
- Yoga helps reduce BP and cholesterol levels
- One study has also shown how regular Yoga practice can help reduce oxidative stress in diabetics
- Yoga promotes healthy breathing, soothes the mind, maintains our emotional balance and boosts our energy levels
- Ardha Matsyendrasana
- Surya Namaskar
Thus anyone with diabetes need not get bogged down by the disease because there are several simple ways of conquering this menace. A healthy lifestyle and good habits can go a long way in countering diabetes and leading a productive life. A bit of determination and resilience have helped many diabetics get over their problems through good diet and lifestyle modification alone. Thus, there is a lot of hope for us to fight against diabetes.
For other natural remedies to control diabetes, click here. If you liked this post and want to have a further discussion or have any question, please leave a comment in the comment box below and I’ll get back to you at the earliest.
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