It is truly alarming that every 1 in 2 people with diabetes are not aware they have it. In other words, about 46% of diabetic people in the world are still undiagnosed. In the UK alone, it is estimated that there are at least 549,000 diabetic individuals who are yet to be diagnosed. The fact that over 6% of the UK’s population is suffering from diabetes mellitus makes it a shockingly common condition. The widespread prevalence of diabetes is a pressing problem that deserves our immediate attention. And given that there are half a million people who do not even know they are living with diabetes, we need to begin from the very basics and raise global awareness about diabetes, its long-term effects, and complications.
With the National Diabetes Month (November) just around the corner, we have decided to do our bit for the cause of diabetes awareness and discuss the long-term effects of diabetes on our body. Remember, diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that if blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled, it can get worse with time and cause long-term health complications. That is exactly why if you are diabetic or at risk, you need to learn about diabetic complications and steps you can take to avoid them.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, also known as just diabetes, is a chronic metabolic disease that occurs when blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels in the body are too high.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas, an organ responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, is either unable to produce insulin altogether or when the body fails to effectively utilize the produced insulin.
Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, plays a central role in the converting glucose from the carbohydrates we consume into energy. Insulin also helps the body store excess glucose in the muscles, fat cells and liver for later use. Insulin, in a nutshell, keeps your blood glucose levels from getting too high (a condition called ‘hyperglycemia’) or too low (hypoglycemia).
Types of Diabetes
Broadly, diabetes mellitus can be categorized into Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin. It can occur at any age but is more common in children and adolescents. People with Type 1 diabetes must routinely inject insulin into their bodies to maintain their glucose levels
Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is more common. It accounts for almost 90% of diabetes cases. In Type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to efficiently utilize the insulin it produces. As a result, people with Type 2 diabetes must rely on oral medication and/ or insulin to control their blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of Diabetes
The most common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Being exhausted or fatigued all the time
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Tingling sensation in extremities including hands, feet or legs
- Hazy or blurry vision
It is recommended that you schedule an appointment with your general physician if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if you are at risk.
Long Term Complications
If diabetes goes unchecked for a prolonged period, it can lead to a wide range of health issues. These health issues are called diabetic complications.
Over time, rapidly deflecting sugar levels can affect our blood vessels, nerves and other vital organs such as the heart and kidneys. Let’s discuss some common diabetic complications:
High Blood Pressure:
You are twice as likely to have high blood pressure if you are diabetic. In fact, over 80% of people with Type 2 diabetes suffer from high blood pressure. High blood pressure should not be taken lightly because it can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, vision issues, and kidney disease.
That is why you should routinely monitor your blood pressure and take steps to reduce it. A low sodium diet, regular exercise, and stress management can help you do that. Your doctor might also prescribe you medication.
Having diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease. Having high blood glucose levels for a long period of time damages blood vessels, especially the arteries as well as nerves that control the heart.
It also increases triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol, more commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’, clogs blood vessels, makes the arteries inelastic and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the British Heart Foundation, individuals with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke than people without diabetes. A stroke usually occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel.
High blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, and obesity all increase the risk of stroke.
One of the most common long-term effects of diabetes is neuropathy or nerve damage and pain. Diabetic neuropathy occurs when nerves in various parts of the body are damaged due to heightened sugar levels in the blood.
Peripheral neuropathy affects hands and feet whereas autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control various organs in the body.
Some symptoms of neuropathy include a tingling sensation in hands or feet, loss of balance, continuous weakness, vision issues, and stabbing pains.
High blood glucose levels for a sustained period of time can also affect the functioning of the kidneys and impair their ability to filter out waste. That is why it is important that you visit your physician and take a urine test at least once a year. If your urine contains excess protein, it might be a sign of kidney disease.
Luckily, diabetic complications are not inevitable. Their onset can either be delayed or prevented entirely if you manage your diabetes by establishing a diabetes care routine. Here’s what you need to do to remain healthy in the longer run:
Regular Checkups and Testing:
We cannot stress this point more. It is important that you monitor your glucose levels on a daily basis and visit your primary care physician if you are experiencing any health issues.
Depending on your situation, they might ask you to get tested. They might even ask you to see a specialist and help you create an insulin regimen.
Diabetes care is all about being aware of your body. While some symptoms can be felt, others go unnoticed until its too late. That is why lab tests are important.
Baby steps are all you need to begin making lifestyle changes. Blood sugar levels can be controlled through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Avoid food rich in sugar and carbs. This includes candies, sugary beverages, bread, rice, and pasta. You might also want to increase the fiber content of your diet because fiber improves digestion and slows down the absorption of glucose, keeping blood sugar levels low.
You should also exercise daily to combat your stress levels and keep your body healthy. Create an exercise plan and stick to it. Exercise can also help you lose weight and increase your insulin sensitivity.
Moreover, if you smoke, consider quitting. You might also want to cut down on your caffeine consumption.
Supplement your medication with natural remedies that can help counter diabetes. Some of these remedies include black cumin seed oil, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar.
Black cumin seed oil is a health-promoting oil extracted from the seeds of Nigella Sativa plant. Black cumin seed oil is rich in a natural compound called thymoquinone which has major hypoglycemic (sugar reducing) properties. Studies have also found that black cumin seed oil boosts insulin production and increases sensitivity to the hormone.
The back cumin seed oil also contains mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids that can improve cholesterol levels. Black seeds are rich in potassium and that can help tackle potassium deficiency in diabetic patients. All in all, black cumin seed oil is a natural remedy, made for diabetic patients.
Cinnamon, a lovely strong scented spice, can also help diabetic patients by reducing insulin resistance on a cellular level. Studies have shown that cinnamon acts like a slower version of insulin and lowers blood glucose levels by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates.
Apple cider vinegar is another natural remedy that can improve insulin sensitivity and lower glucose levels in the body. Apart from that, apple cider Vinegar is also beneficial to your health in multiple ways.
It is recommended that you consult your physician before taking any of these natural remedies because they can be very potent. If you are already taking sugar lowering medication, your physician can suggest the right dosage for you.
We know it can be scary to think about all the long-term effects of diabetes. It can also be difficult to adjust to a healthier lifestyle, switch diet or stay true to your exercise plan. But making these changes will yield results in the long run and your body will thank you later.
You do not have to do it all at once, either. Take baby steps and you will gradually settle into a healthier routine. What’s important is that you begin making healthy choices today, so you don’t have regrets tomorrow!