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Published on June 03, 2019

doctor explaining report on tablet to parent and child

How to Prevent or Live Well With Diabetes

Diabetes is happening more often and at younger ages than ever before.

How to prevent and live well with diabetes begins with understanding what it is.

“Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas can’t keep up. It’s definitely related to obesity, inactivity and diet,” said Eric Ocampo, MD, Avera Medical Group endocrinologist in Tyler, Minn.

The pancreas normally secretes insulin, a hormone that tells the body cells to absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream for energy. People with diabetes develop what’s called insulin resistance. The pancreas has to work harder to compensate for excess weight and food intake. When the insulin level increases, it changes the metabolism, making the person feel even hungrier, so they eat more, creating a bad cycle.

“The pancreas stops working as well or stops working at all,” Ocampo said. “There are many studies that show that type 2 diabetes can be prevented 75 percent of the time with just diet, weight control and exercise."

A diet to prevent or manage diabetes should be low carb, high protein and high fiber. “You can eat carbs, just reduce the portion,” Ocampo said. Limit breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, baked products like cookies and cake, pop and ice cream.

Because exercise improves metabolism, it helps manage blood sugar. “It creates a mechanism to get sugar out of the blood, feeding the cells of muscles and organs more efficiently,” Ocampo said.

Weight loss is often a result of healthy diet and exercise.

Some cases of diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise alone. Other patients need oral medications, insulin injections, and injections that are not insulin. “Bariatric surgery has recently been approved as an official treatment for type 2 diabetes,” Ocampo added.

“If diabetes is not well controlled, effects can be catastrophic,” he said, including stroke, heart attack, blindness, kidney failure and lower extremity amputation. “It’s proven that you can prevent these complications with better diabetes control,” Ocampo said.

Diabetes in Children

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different diseases that are similar in name and effects on the body.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but it’s most common in childhood.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system “misbehaves” and starts producing antibodies that impact the pancreas. “The body stops making insulin,” said Oleksandr Kachanov, MD, Avera Medical Group pediatrician and pediatric critical care specialist in Aberdeen, S.D.

Symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, hunger, thirst and increased urination. It can quickly ramp up to be a serious condition with more urgent symptoms such as abdominal pain and nausea, change in behavior and even loss of consciousness.

Read the story of parents who faced diabetes in their son.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not brought on by poor diet, weight gain and inactivity. It can only be controlled and managed – there’s no reversal of this condition and no cure except a pancreas transplant. “In 85 percent of new cases, there’s no family history. It can happen out of the blue,” Kachanov said. Daily blood sugar checks, insulin injections, diet changes and exercise become the new normal for those diagnosed with it.

Yet type 2 diabetes – most often associated with adulthood – is being diagnosed more and more often in children.

The habits that lead to it often start around 5 to 8 years of age with a high sugar and high-carb diet, portions that are too large and lack of physical activity – all leading to weight gain.

The remedy is better eating habits, putting down the electronics, and getting active.

“Kids should eat a well-balanced diet with a limit on things like pop and candy. They don’t need to eat adult portions. They should also get at least one hour of physical activity a day,” Kachanov said.

Blood Sugar Basics

If you’re concerned about your risks for developing diabetes, ask for a blood test at your next checkup.

  • Normal: Under 100 fasting blood sugar, A1C of 5.7 percent or below
  • Prediabetes: 100 to 125 fasting blood sugar, A1C of 5.7 to 6.4 percent
  • Diabetes: 126 or above fasting blood sugar, A1C of 6.5 percent or above

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