If you are like 29 million other Americans, you have diabetes. Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by high blood sugar levels. Another 86 million adults in the United States have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which means these Americans have higher than normal blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diabetes.
Body cells use sugar as energy. Most body cells get this sugar, also known as glucose, from the bloodstream. When a person eats or drinks anything, glucose moves from his digestive tract to the bloodstream. Body cells then absorb the sugar.
Eating and drinking, especially sugary foods and beverages, increase the levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Physical activity lowers blood sugar levels as muscles burn sugar for fuel.
Muscles cannot absorb sugar directly from the bloodstream, however. The hormone insulin acts as a chemical messenger that tells body cells to absorb sugar from the blood. Without insulin, sugar continues to float through the bloodstream while muscles become weak without fuel to burn.
There are two types of diabetes. Type I diabetes occurs because the pancreas produces inadequate levels of insulin. Type I diabetes usually begins in childhood. People with type I diabetes must take insulin to help body cells absorb blood glucose.
Type II diabetes is the body’s inability to utilize and clear out the sugar in human blood. The problem often occurs when body cells ignore insulin’s message to absorb glucose. Doctors refer to this as insulin resistance – no amount of insulin can trigger absorption. Type II diabetes used to occur mainly in adults but now occurs in children.
Insulin resistance can cause complications, as very high levels of blood sugar can cause extensive damage to blood vessels, nerves, and body tissues. Diabetes often causes slow healing and other health problems. Over time, high blood sugars can cause problems with kidneys, feet and eyes. One major complication is diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that affects about half of all people with diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy can make hands and feet numb, which greatly increases the risk for serious foot and hand injuries to go unnoticed. Because diabetes can greatly slow healing, even moderate foot and hand injuries can turn quite serious.
Caring for Diabetes
Caring for diabetes focuses on keeping blood sugar levels under control. People with diabetes must choose low calorie foods free from excess sugar, monitor blood sugar levels, and take insulin as directed. Maintaining a healthy weight helps too. Regular exercise and healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding cigarette smoke, reduces the risk for complications.
People with diabetes must also take very good care of their feet, as diabetic neuropathy can cause serious complications including slow-healing infections that could result in limb loss. People with diabetes often turn to gentle whirlpool and air baths to stimulate circulation and reduce nerve damage.
If you or someone you love has diabetes and are concerned about diabetic neuropathy, talk to a doctor to find out how whirlpools and air baths can help.