What too much sugar can do
When we eat, the body breaks down sugar and starches from our food into glucose — the body’s energy source — and insulin carries it to our cells. If you eat too much sugar, it can make your body demand more insulin, which can lead to a build-up of sugar in your blood. A higher than normal blood sugar level could increase your risk of eventually developing diabetes.
We’re talking about type 2 diabetes, which is what 90 percent of all people with diabetes have. Most cases of type 2 diabetes are related to weight and lifestyle. It develops because your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin anymore or doesn’t use the insulin that is produced.
The other kind, type 1, happens when the body cannot produce insulin. It has nothing to do with weight or lifestyle — it’s caused by a malfunctioning pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes usually develops slowly — a decade or longer. It generally progresses from normal blood glucose to impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) to diabetes. When the glucose level is slightly higher than normal, some people refer to it as prediabetes.
Symptoms of too much sugar in the blood
People with higher than normal levels of sugar in their blood often don’t have symptoms or if they do, they’re likely to be similar to diabetes, only less noticeable.
- Brain fog
- High blood pressure
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
Type 2 diabetes risk factors
A sugary diet isn’t the only type 2 diabetes risk factor. It’s usually caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors — some that can be controlled and some that can’t. Several risk factors increase a person’s chances of developing the disease.
- Obesity — if you have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 29, your odds increase to one in four
- Age — the risk increases with age, especially after 45
- Inactivity — the less active you are the greater your risk
- Family history — risk increases if one of your parents or siblings has type 2 diabetes
- Diet — high in sugar, cholesterol and processed food
- Diagnosis of heart disease or high cholesterol
- Race — more prevalent in people of certain races, including African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders
- Gestational diabetes — if you had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or had a baby that weighed more than nine pounds, your risk is increased
- Polycystic ovary syndrome increases the risk
- Sleep — research suggests that regularly sleeping fewer than six hours or more than nine hours a night might increase your risk
If you have any of the above risk factors, it would be a good idea to get tested to see if your blood sugar is high. Even when it’s normal, if there are any risk factors on the list that you can change, you should get started. For instance, research shows that people can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes if they lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight and get at least one-half hour of moderate physical activity five days a week.
National Diabetes Prevention Program
Losing weight and increasing your activity may look simple on paper, but the reality is often daunting. The CDC has developed a program called the National Diabetes Prevention Program to help people who want to change their lifestyles. Eileen Molloy is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Pen Bay Healthcare‘s Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center. “I’ve been a dietitian for many years,” says Eileen, “and the challenge with classes and individual counseling is that you give information to people and they don’t have support week after week to help them achieve it. The National Diabetes Prevention Program is evidence-based — we had to be trained and have to use their materials. There are 16 weekly sessions followed by monthly sessions for a year.”
The evidence, according to the CDC research, shows that its program can help people cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half. One study showed that making modest lifestyle changes reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent in people with prediabetes and 71 percent in people over 60.
The CDC website lists several organizations in Maine that are now offering the Diabetes Prevention Program. Participants must be 18 or older, overweight and be considered at high risk. If you’re interested, contact the individual programs for more information. Many insurances companies provide coverage.
Eileen says the most important message she wants to leave with people is that they can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes with just modest lifestyle changes. “Diet plus exercise and weight loss,” she says. “Put them all together and they’re powerful, but even alone, each one has its own benefit. It’s just unbelievable what lifestyle can do.”