3 Ways To Determine If YOU Are At Risk For Diabetes
By Heather DeGeorge
There are people with a family history of diabetes, but even without a family history, you may still be at risk. Many think that if they’re not eating lots of candy and cakes, they’re okay. Unfortunately, it’s not all about your candy/cake-to-healthy food balance. There are other factors to consider.
Let’s talk about how your body deals with “sugar”. Actually, this is a misconception because what most of us believe affects our “blood sugar” is only part of the story. What we are dealing with is technically called “blood glucose” and it’s affected by more than just what we know as “sugar” items and sweets. More on that later…
Most people’s bodies are fueled primarily by glucose. We take glucose in from our food. What is not used by our muscles for energy, gets stored in the liver and fat cells, where it can be accessed later. Glucose is found mostly in carbohydrate foods, like pasta, cookies and cakes… typical foods that are referred to as “carbs”. But did you know that there are carbohydrates in vegetables, too?
When people tell me they don’t eat carbs, my first response is “so you don’t eat ANY vegetables?” Carbohydrates have three components: sugar, starch, and dietary fiber. Vegetables contain carbohydrates by way of dietary fiber (but some also contain starch and sugar components).
When you eat and your food produces glucose to be distributed to different parts of your body, insulin is produced to transport the glucose to wherever it needs to go. Insulin is a hormone created in the pancreas, which is an organ that sits behind the stomach. Diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce insulin (Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes) or doesn’t produce enough insulin to manage the amount of glucose in a typical diet (Type 2 diabetes). Years ago, Type 2 diabetes was also called “late-onset diabetes” because it most often occurred in elderly adults. Unfortunately, we are now seeing children with Type 2 diabetes.
We can see the play of glucose and insulin sometimes in the way our bodies respond to them. Children are often overactive after having sugar, when their muscles have a lot of extra energy. Some people feel sleepy after a meal or snack with a lot of starch and sugar. This happens because the excess glucose produces a rush of insulin to transport that glucose, but that cycle can leave someone with too little glucose left and therefore, too little energy, leaving them tired.
For those whose bodies might be on this glucose-insulin roller coaster, there can come a time when your body can no longer produce enough insulin to manage the demands of managing glucose for you, which is when you are diagnosed with diabetes. Standard blood testing will often tell you when the problem has gone too far, but there are warning signs beforehand.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Monitoring your energy levels (especially after you eat) can help you better understand how well your body is currently handling glucose-insulin balancing. If you find yourself tired within the hour after eating a sugar or starchy food or meal, this is a good warning sign that you may be on the roller coaster that may end at diabetes. If you are constantly exhausted no matter what you eat, that could be a sign of “insulin resistance” (although there are countless other possible explanations for fatigue).
Insulin resistance occurs when your muscles are unwilling to interact with insulin and therefore, they don’t accept the glucose fuel the muscles need for energy. This leaves you not only tired frequently, but it can also lead to uncontrollable weight gain. If you believe that your exhaustion is the result of poor sleep habits, keep in mind that untreated sleep problems are evidence-supported to increase the risk of obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Although the typical blood testing done typically checks for pre-existing diabetes, you can find a pre-diabetic problem if you and your doctor look for it. Most doctors will run a test called the hemoglobin A1C (or “A1C”). This test measures the average blood glucose level in your body over the last 6-12 weeks. Both the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health say that an A1C level that is 6.5 or higher is diabetic and 5.7 to 6.4 is pre-diabetic.
If a fasting glucose level is done, most labs will only note a problem when that level is at, or above 100. Dr. Mark Hyman, author of “The Blood Sugar Solution”, suggests implementing corrective diet and lifestyle changes if your fasting glucose level is above 80 mg/dl (the unit of measure most widely used in the United States). Dr. Hyman also recommends a fasting insulin level between 2 to 5 μIU/dl.
For some reason, comprehensive insulin tests are harder to convince mainstream medical doctors to do. This may be because the labs sometimes are unable to produce reference ranges for the tests if not enough people had the test done recently. This leaves the doctor to interpret the number for themselves, which may be difficult due to the lack of information available. In addition to a fasting insulin test, an “insulin response test” could be done to get a better picture of how your body is producing insulin in response to glucose. It’s much like the 3-hour glucose tolerance test: you drink a sugary beverage and take blood at different intervals. In a glucose tolerance test, the lab is measuring blood glucose, whereas in an insulin response test, the lab is measuring insulin levels. Ideally, you would do both together (they use the same beverage) to get a complete picture of your body’s activity.
Other things to monitor
Blood testing and energy levels are just two of the many things that should be checked to monitor your potential for a diabetic or pre-diabetic condition. Other symptoms to look for include:
- Mood swings and depression (especially mental health problems that have been resistant to pharmaceutical treatment or therapy). In children, this might also look like defiant and aggressive behavior.
- Triglyceride levels over 100 mg/dl
- Presence of acanthosis nigricans. This is a skin condition that looks like areas of dark, velvety discolored skin in body folds and creases, like armpits, neck and groin areas.
- A waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women
- Family history of diabetes
- Personal history of cardiovascular disease
There are other symptoms that can point to a risk (or existence) for pre-diabetic conditions, but these are a few that you may be able to see on your own and bring to the attention of a qualified practitioner to pursue further.
Overwhelmingly, evidence supports that diet and lifestyle changes can manage various levels of blood glucose problems effectively, which helps avoid the downward spiral of additional health problems that seem to walk hand in hand with diabetes and pre-diabetic disorders. If you need assistance identifying and transitioning into changes like this, find yourself a qualified health coach (like myself!) and work closely with a Naturopath of Functional Medicine Doctor.
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and FirstLine Therapy Certified Lifestyle Educator
at Heather DeGeorge
Heather DeGeorge is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and FirstLine Therapy Certified Lifestyle Educator. In addition to general health and weight loss, she specializes in dietary intervention for behavior and development problems of children. She also helps her clients to adjust to specialized or restricted diets based on medical diagnoses, like diabetes or gluten intolerance, with an end-goal of healing the body and moving towards a less restrictive diet.
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