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Trick or Treat…Can Diabetes be Beat?

This time of the year brings out the Halloween treats…candy, cookies, cupcakes, and caramel apples. All that sweet stuff can be frightening as excess sugar is linked to obesity, heart disease and cancer. But does it directly lead to diabetes? The short answer is no, the long answer is maybe.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired. Insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, helps to regulate blood sugar or blood glucose. Glucose is taken up by muscle, fat, and liver cells, with the help of insulin, to create energy. The pancreas needs to release an adequate amount of insulin and the muscle, fat, and liver cells need to be able to recognize insulin in order for glucose to be let into the cells. Insulin is like a key that unlocks the doors of the cells to allow glucose to enter. When this process is interrupted, blood glucose levels remain high leading to pre-diabetes and eventually diabetes.

Type 1 versus Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin through shots or a pump in order to manage their blood glucose levels. Typically, Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed during childhood, but it can also develop during adulthood. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the body wrongly destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes cases. The cause of Type 2 diabetes is largely the result of two interrelated issues: 1. cells in the muscle, fat and liver become resistant to insulin and 2. the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to manage blood glucose levels. Why these two issues arise is unknown, but being inactive and overweight are key contributing factors. While Type 2 diabetes is generally diagnosed when you are an adult, children and teens are increasingly diagnosed due to rising childhood obesity levels. Type 2 diabetes can be managed through diet, exercise, and medications.

Positive Changes = Positive Results

Positive changes in our lifestyle can create positive results in our blood glucose levels. Managing our weight through regular exercise and proper nutrition helps to lower the level of excess glucose in the bloodstream. Exercising at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes most days of the week and losing 5-10% of your body weight can significantly lower your risk of developing diabetes or it can help to control your Type 2 diabetes. Making healthy food choices and controlling portion sizes also helps us to maintain our weight. Replacing refined carbohydrates (white bread, sugar, soda, etc.) with whole grain foods and increasing our intake of vegetables and other foods high in fiber support us in making healthier choices. While the link between excess sugar consumption and diabetes is still up for discussion, what we do know is that increased sugar consumption is linked to obesity which is associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. So, one wild Halloween night of eating sweets is not going to cause diabetes as long as we work on our healthy habits during the rest of the year.

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