For Diabetes Awareness Month, ‘Be your own health advocate’

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

It’s alarming that over 30 million American adults have diabetes. It’s even more concerning that 1 in 4 people with diabetes don’t even know they have a disease that can cause kidney failure, blindness, loss of limbs, and is our nation’s seventh leading cause of death. This high rate of untreated illness is something that diabetes awareness advocates like Kristi Falk are working to change.

“Everybody is touched by diabetes in some way, whether you have it personally, or you have a family member or a friend that has diabetes,” says Falk, executive director of the Diabetes Wellness Council.

“You may not know that they have it, because some people don’t put that information out there, and there are also so many people who are undiagnosed.”

Since November is Diabetes Awareness Month and Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day, it’s the perfect time to learn more about this widespread illness and discuss treatment options that may help diabetes patients live healthier, longer lives.

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes “is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.”

When a person has diabetes, their body either struggles to produce adequate insulin or it cannot efficiently process the insulin it makes.

This can cause an excess of blood sugar to remain in the bloodstream, and over time this excess sugar can cause weight gain, heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

As of yet, there is no cure for diabetes, though symptoms can be managed with medication prescribed by a physician. Patients can bolster their results with lifestyle improvements like eating healthy food, exercising, and losing weight.

But the first step toward wellness is understanding when something is going wrong. Falk, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12, observes that different forms of diabetes present differently. She notes that Type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune reaction that stops the body from making insulin) has some pretty clear symptoms.

“With Type 1, there are prominent things that you can look for, like you’re always thirsty, urinating frequently, lethargic, vomiting – those are some of the things that my mother noticed in me when I was young,” Falk says.

Those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day – a burden that is somewhat eased by modern medical devices like implantable continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps. There is currently no known way to prevent Type 1 diabetes. That’s not the case with Type 2, which can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes (losing weight, healthy food, exercise).

In patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t process insulin well and cannot maintain normal levels of blood sugar. According to the CDC, about 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2, and since it develops over a number of years, the symptoms can be so subtle that they go unnoticed.
“There is some lethargy involved, as well as weight gain and mental fog,” says Falk.

People at high risk of developing Type 2 are in a medical category called “prediabetic,” which means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but haven’t crossed the threshold into full-on diabetes. Prediabetes increases a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke. The CDC says that 84.1 million American adults – more than 1 in 3 people – have prediabetes, and 90% of them are not aware of their condition.

Blood sugar checks are part of routine physical exams, but for those at increased risk of developing diabetes, that quick test could provide an early warning and help fend off a deadly disease. Along with standard medical supervision, diabetes and prediabetes patients can take charge of their condition by making changes to their daily routines.

Falk, a certified diabetes coach and ketogenic lifestyle coach, notes that even the most prescribed diabetes medications are more effective when teamed with good diets, physical activity, and taking an active role in your own treatment.

“I tell people to be your own health advocate, to be part of your health care solution. Ask questions, talk to your doctor, and test your blood sugar because you don’t know if the medication is working if you don’t test,” Falk says.

Numerous medical studies have shown that diets low in carbohydrates and sugar can help diabetes patients manage their condition, especially when paired with medical care and frequent blood sugar testing. As an adherent of the ketogenic diet, Falk ingests very low amounts of carbs – about 20 to 30 grams per day – along with a moderate amount of protein. On keto, most of one’s calories come from healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and coconut oil. The low amount of carbs can help curb blood sugar spikes and reduce the need for insulin.

Falk says that anyone wishing to learn more about the ketogenic diet, or looking for someone to help them navigate a diabetes diagnosis, she does free 15 minute consults to help people learn more about resources and options.

For general information about the disease, visit www.diabetes.org. To connect with Kristi Falk and learn more about her coaching services, visit diabeteswellnesscouncil.org.

Author: Rachel Howell

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