Diabetes… the Good News

Diabetes is a chronic disease that currently affects more than one in ten Americans. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes is the most common, accounting for 80-90 percent of all cases. The disease is caused by a resistance to the effects of insulin as well as a deficiency of insulin. Type 2 diabetes can be effectively treated with exercise, diet, and medication, including insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease: the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Persons with type 1 diabetes will require insulin injections to sustain life.

Diabetes can cause complications, including eye disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, stroke and heart disease. While the complications of diabetes can be severe, the good news is that these complications can be prevented. Over the past twenty-five years, research has shown that good control of diabetes, and treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol can greatly reduce the complications of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes by more than 30 percent.

Better treatment tools

Diabetes treatment is a very active area of medical research, leading to an ever increasing array of medications, new forms of insulin and methods for monitoring blood glucose. Fundamental to successful treatment of diabetes is the involvement of the patient in managing the disease. It is essential that they understand the role of diet, exercise, medication and self-monitoring of blood glucose to achieve successful treatment. Current guidelines for control of blood glucose recommend that the hemoglobin A1C—which reflects average glucose level over the previous 3 months—be maintained at 7 percent or less; LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) be maintained at less than 100 mg/dL; and blood pressure be kept under 130/80.

More recent research has also brought good news about prevention of type 2 diabetes. About 35 percent of the US population has prediabetes and about a quarter of those people will eventually develop diabetes. Yet research has shown that lifestyle changes, including weight loss and increased exercise, can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. Bear in mind that the benefits of small changes can be significant: weight loss of as little as 7 percent of body weight and 150 minutes of exercise a week can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 60 percent.