What used to be called “adult-onset” is now known as type 2 diabetes, and it’s occurring at younger and younger ages. One in three children in the United States will eventually become diabetic; one in two Hispanics and African Americans will develop the disease.
Obesity is partly to blame; people who are overweight have a much higher rate of diabetes. The condition affects just about every organ in the body. It reduces blood flow to your heart (leading to heart attacks), your brain (leading to strokes), your sexual organs (leading to impotence), and your legs and feet (leading to amputations). Diabetics are more likely to develop damaged nerves and kidneys, are more prone to infections and are more likely to die of pneumonia or influenza. Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people ages 20 to 74. And women with untreated diabetes are at higher risk for pregnancy complications.
Recent studies indicate that diabetes may even raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm found that people with borderline diabetes (where blood sugar levels are slightly elevated) were 67% more likely to develop dementia. And a Kaiser Permanente study suggests that the higher your blood sugar, the greater your risk of dementia as you age.
Why? Some diabetics are resistant to insulin, causing their bodies to make more of it. High levels of insulin may cause inflammation, which may cause brain damage. Another study from Kaiser Permanente found that the higher your blood sugar, the greater your risk of dementia as you get older. Also, high levels of insulin may cause destructive deposits of a protein called amyloid to build up in your brain, which interferes with its function.
The good news: There are ways to lower your risk. There is no cure for diabetes, but it’s often preventable — and even reversible. What you can do:
1 Lose a few. Losing even ten pounds can make a difference. For people ages 50 to 71, being overweight increases the risk of premature death from all causes by 20% to 40%.
2. Get moving. Exercise reduces blood sugar, helps you lose weight and can prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. Walk for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
3. Cut the fat. Since fat has nine calories per gram, and protein and carbs have only four, when you eat less fat, you eat fewer calories. This includes good fats, so limit them too.
4. Say nay to bad carbs. These include sugar, white flour and rice, and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. They’re low in fiber, so they’re absorbed quickly, causing blood sugar to spike. This stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin. Repetitive surges of insulin may make your body resistant to it, which causes more to be made. This may lead to diabetes.
5. Load up on good carbs. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy. All are rich in fiber, which prevents overeating and helps keep your blood sugar steady.
6. Meditate. Under stress, your body produces hormones that make blood sugar rise. Chronic stress can cause insulin resistance, which in turn may promote diabetes. So chill out!