Diabetes is a growing problem, not only nationally but also in Native American communities. Au-Authm Action News will be featuring a series of articles related to diabetes. This article begins with the basics about the disease; in the next article, we will go more in-depth on symptoms, prevention, treatment, medications, diabetes research, dialysis and the complications of diabetes.
Overall, an estimated 23.6 million Americans have diabetes, or 7.8 percent of the population, and more than 1 million new cases are diagnosed each year in people age 20 and older. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service say that 16.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska Native adults have been diagnosed with diabetes (compared to 8.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites). Of the Natives who have it, 95 percent have type 2 diabetes (as opposed to type 1 diabetes). Additionally, an estimated 30 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have prediabetes, symptoms indicating they are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition that prevents a person’s body from regulating the right amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood, usually due to the inability of the pancreas to supply enough of a hormone called insulin into the system. Insulin helps your body break down sugars and starches into energy that the body needs for fuel. Sometimes the body is resistant to insulin, meaning the insulin is there but it cannot work efficiently. Although the body produces insulin, it’s not enough or the cells ignore the insulin. As a result, glucose remains in the blood, where it should not be. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going to cells, it can damage the blood vessels and lead to diabetes complications.
If a person has pre-diabetes, it means their blood glucose is running high. A healthy fasting blood glucose level should not be higher than 100 mg/dL. If it’s from 100 to 126 mg/dL, that’s pre-diabetes; fasting blood glucose higher than 126 mg/dL is an indicator of diabetes. Although pre-diabetes can occur in people of all ages and races, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are at higher risk for developing pre-diabetes. It’s at this point when a person needs to make lifestyle changes, such as eating right and exercising, to prevent developing full-blown diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is primarily seen in the Caucasian population and is developed at a very young age; as a result, it was often called juvenile diabetes. A person with type 1 diabetes does not produce any insulin at all, so they have to test their blood sugar and inject specific amounts of insulin into their body every day for the rest of their lives.
Someone with diabetes must take care of themselves properly to prevent diabetes complications, which include heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.
To prevent diabetes and regulate your blood glucose levels, it is important to eat a healthy diet and exercise. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, which can be divided into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.