7 Key Elements to Manage Your Diabetes Condition
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
About 38.4 million people have diabetes in the US, which is around 11.6% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This number is on the rise, requiring a new approach to maintaining the wellness of people living with, and at risk of, diabetes.
It all starts by keeping the blood glucose levels within the normal range to avoid many of the associated complications. Those can range from stroke and heart problems to blurry vision and losing sensation in the limbs.
Blood sugar is influenced by a number of different factors. Once you start to understand what controls it, you’ll have the means to help your internal intricate machinery that lowers high blood sugar.
Follow along as we explore 7 different elements that contribute to managing diabetes and allow you to improve blood sugar levels once and for all.
Successful diabetes management plans have to prioritize health education. This way people with diabetes can learn about their specific condition, avoid health problems associated with it, and become aware of when to seek medical attention.
There are three main types of diabetes and each variant has a different underlying mechanism and subsequently different management. Those include:
This type of diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction, in which the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone needed for the normal utilization of blood sugar.
It’s secreted after meals and promotes the entry of simple sugars into the cells. The cells then make use of glucose to produce the energy needed to carry out their basic functions and survive.
In the absence of insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream leading to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
Low insulin levels can still be the cause of type 2 diabetes. However, the condition can also develop due to insulin resistance, where insulin is produced normally but the cells don’t respond to it effectively.
Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and it can be seen in both children and adults. This hasn’t always been the case, as type 2 used to develop during adolescence. Nevertheless, the rise of childhood obesity changed the age demographic of the condition, as obesity plays a key role in the development of the disease.
Gestational diabetes is a transient condition that can develop during pregnancy. For the most part, blood sugar levels normalize after delivery. However, it’s important to follow up with those mothers and their babies as both carry a higher risk of having type 2 diabetes at some point later in life.
Knowing which type of diabetes you might have is just the tip of the iceberg. Make sure you discuss your condition with a multidisciplinary medical team that includes a diabetes physician, a dietician, and a pharmacist.
You can also become part of an in-person or an online support group to learn how to cope with your condition and attain sustainable lifestyle changes.
As with any chronic condition, continuous monitoring is key to avoid complications. In addition to seeing your doctor regularly, you need to be able to monitor your blood glucose level at home using a test strip or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Keep a log of your daily blood test measurements as this will come in handy when adjusting your management plan.
Additionally, and regardless of symptoms, cholesterol levels should be measured at least once a year. There are two types of cholesterol in our body: bad and good cholesterol.
Bad cholesterol or low density lipoprotein (LDL) comes from saturated fat, especially trans fat commonly found in hydrogenated vegetable oils. The buildup of this type of cholesterol can stiffen the blood vessels and increase the risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
On the other hand, good cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL), works to get rid of LDL and free your blood vessels from its harmful effects.
According to your doctor's recommendations, you must also monitor your glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C). This test assesses the average blood glucose level throughout the last three months. The target value you should hit is below 7 for you to stay healthy and avoid diabetes-related issues like diabetic eye disease, kidney problems, and nerve damage.
Diabetes also affects heart health and raises the risk of a heart attack. For this reason, blood pressure monitoring is of utmost importance. People with diabetes should keep their blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg. Blood pressure is usually checked on each visit with your diabetes doctor.
We can’t overstate how important diet is in managing diabetes. Different foods, portion sizes, and food combinations can all influence your blood glucose levels. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to help you curate a healthy diet plan:
Manage your carbs intake: The American Diabetes Association (ADA) emphasizes calculating the carbs you consume.
Discuss a comprehensive meal plan with your dietician and ensure you hit the target range for the carbs allowed daily. If you find trouble sticking to your designated limits, try the diabetes plate method. Green vegetables should make up half your plate, while carbs like brown rice take a quarter to leave the last quarter for lean protein.
Eat more fiber: Including fiber in your dietary plan is crucial as it slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. This translates into a more predictable and gradual rise in the blood sugar level instead of sudden spikes.
You can get your daily fiber requirements from non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily fiber intake of 24 grams for women and 35 grams for men.
Stay hydrated: Make sure you drink water regularly throughout the day. This stimulates the kidneys to filter out and excrete excess blood glucose. Don’t lean on sugar-sweetened beverages, or even diet soda, to achieve your hydration goals as this can negatively affect kidney health.
Physical activity is another cornerstone of diabetes care. Exercise stimulates the muscles to utilize blood glucose more efficiently while helping you maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, being physically active helps lower blood sugar which, in turn, decreases the risk of heart disease.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Strenuous exercise achieves longer-lasting effects. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate the benefits of light activities like brisk walking, running chores, or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
It’s worth noting that you need to monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after your workout. The blood glucose level can easily dip especially if you’re new to exercising and taking diabetes medications.
You should also be aware of the signs of low blood sugar so you can take glucose tablets as a rescue intervention. The signs include confusion, shaking, sweating, fast heartbeat, and dizziness.
The first line of managing type 2 diabetes is lifestyle changes, which include a diabetes meal plan and an exercise routine. This might not be enough to control the blood glucose level in all patients. So, sometimes diabetes medication is required to improve the blood sugar maintenance efforts.
Type 1 diabetes, caused by a lack of insulin secretion, is managed entirely by exogenous insulin.
It’s important to bear in mind that insulin is very sensitive to temperature changes, So, your treatment won’t be as effective if you don’t store your insulin vials properly. You should also never use expired medications because they lose their efficacy and their outcomes are unpredictable.
If you struggle with adhering to your insulin regimen because of needle-phobia, you can make your insulin administration less daunting by adopting a needle-free jet system like InsuJet.
Your insulin dose is dynamic, which means it has to be adjusted according to how much glucose you consume in your diet and your level of physical activity. So you need to plan ahead and lower your insulin dose if you’re engaging in strenuous exercise, and on the other hand, you need to increase the dose when you eat more carbohydrates.
Also note that other drugs you take including non-prescription medications can interact with your diabetes treatment and lead to unexpected effects. Make sure you consult your primary care physician whether such drugs could alter your blood glucose level.
It’s important to be mindful about how your blood sugar fluctuations can be attributed to stress, which affects hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, causing blood sugar dips and spikes. Use a 1 to 10 scale to quantify your stress every time you log your blood sugar measurements and soon you can identify a trend.
If you see a correlation, you should learn relaxation techniques, like meditation and mindfulness, and avoid major stressors if possible. Always seek help when you need it, as working with a social worker or a psychiatrist can make you cope with your stress in a healthy way.
Don’t underestimate how a healthy daily routine can influence your long-term diabetes management. This includes getting enough sleep to reset your body’s biological clock and maintain a good hormonal balance.
You can improve your sleep quality by limiting your screen time before going to bed, following a regular sleep schedule, and avoiding caffeine late in the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night can help reduce stress and maintain good health and glycemic control.
The way our body responds to low blood sugar is by nudging the liver to release stored sugar. However, when you drink, you give the liver extra work to filter out the alcohol, making it busy and less likely to mobilize the stored glucose.
This raises the risk of low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, for up to 24 hours after your last drink.
It’s also important to know that alcoholic drinks speed up the nerve damage caused by diabetes. This can lead to lost sensation and numbness in the hands and feet. If your diabetes symptoms are under control, your doctor might give you the green light to have a drink every once in a while.
As for smoking, it comes with detrimental health effects. It increases the risk of heart disease, poor wound healing, and foot ulcers. According to a study published by the CDC, the risk of amputation is increased in people with diabetes who are active smokers.
You should make serious attempts to quit smoking. Nicotine patches can help with the craving, especially in the early stages of quitting. Consult your doctor if you have any debilitating withdrawal symptoms. You can find helpful resources for smoking cessation on the CDC’s website.
Maintaining normal blood glucose levels is crucial for optimal diabetes management. Unchecked diabetes can lead to a number of health-related problems that can negatively impact the quality of life.
Now that we’ve walked you through 7 key elements for diabetes control, you have the means to lead a healthier life and cope with your condition. Paying close attention to your diet and level of activity can make a huge impact on your blood sugar levels, as well.
Maintaining normal blood pressure, avoiding alcohol and smoking, in addition to keeping your stress levels in check can all help you achieve sustainable diabetes control.
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