Diabetes is a cluster of disorders characterized by high blood sugar levels that persist over a long period. It is one of the most common disorders of our time.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, 387 million people worldwide were living with diabetes by the year 2014.
In the U.S. alone, 29.1 million people have diabetes, out of which 8.1 million remain undiagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Understanding How Your Body Works
Glucose is a type of simple sugar found in food. It is a major source of energy and is used by every living organism.
When you eat food, your digestive system breaks it down into glucose in the blood so your cells can extract energy from it and recharge themselves. At this point, the glucose is also called blood sugar.
Every cell of every organ in your body, be it the muscles, kidneys or the brain, relies on energy from glucose to perform its functions.
But how does this glucose reach the cells?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that performs the crucial task of delivering glucose to the different cells.
So, how does all this relate to diabetes?
There are two major types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
- In Type 1 diabetes, the cells of the pancreas responsible for making insulin either fail to do so or create very little.
- This keeps the glucose unused in the blood, and can ultimately cause an overload of blood sugar.
- It is mostly diagnosed in young adults and children.
Type 2 Diabetes
- This is the most common type of diabetes. Ninety percent of the adults suffering from diabetes have Type 2 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when your pancreas produces the insulin, but your cells are unable to use it properly. In medical terminology, this is called insulin resistance.
- Initially, the pancreas responds by making more insulin to try to get the cells to use it properly. However, over time, the pancreas fails to keep up. This may ultimately cause excess blood sugar.
Excess blood sugar due to either type of diabetes is a major cause for concern. Uncontrolled diabetes can allow the sugar to remain in the blood for too long and damage other organs.
Here is how uncontrolled diabetes can damage your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, teeth and more.
Eyes. Having high levels of sugar in your blood for a long time can harm the tiny blood vessels in your eyes. This can result in vision problems or blindness.
Heart. High blood sugar may also harm larger blood vessels in your body that supply oxygen to your heart and brain. Fat can build up in the blood vessels as well. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Nerves. Nerves carry important messages between your brain and other parts of your body. Having high levels of sugar in your blood for many years can damage the blood vessels that bring oxygen to some nerves. Damaged nerves may stop sending pain signals.
Teeth. Diabetes reduces the ability of people to fight infections, thus increasing the risk of different mouth disorders. In fact, it increases the risk of developing cavities and tooth decay, gingivitis, periodontitis, oral thrush, and burning mouth syndrome.
Kidneys. Think of your kidneys like a coffee filter. They keep the things you need inside your body, but filter out wastes and extra fluid. Your kidneys are filled with tiny blood vessels. Over time, high blood sugar can cause these blood vessels to get narrow and clogged. As your kidneys get less blood, less waste and fluid is taken out of your body. Kidney disease that is caused by diabetes is called diabetic kidney disease. It is the number one cause of kidney failure in the United States.
Brain. Diabetes affects the brain as well. Diabetologia published a study in 2007, showing that people with type 2 diabetes had reduces white matter in the brain. Loss of this area of the brain affects the cognitive functions, leading to mental decline over time. Type 2 diabetes could also affect one’s cognitive functions and mental abilities. Also, there’s the risk of vascular cognitive impairment and cerebrovascular disease over time.
How to Control Diabetes
Here are couple of pointers to control your blood glucose levels:
- Take your prescribed diabetes medications and insulin regularly and on time
- Eat low-carb vegetables, whole-grains, plant-based proteins, fish, and seafood
- Prevent sugar, carbs, processed food, sodas, saturated fats
- Exercise routinely, or at least have regular exercise such as strolling
- Manage tension
- Tape-record your blood sugar level levels
- See your healthcare team at least 2 times a year
By knowing how diabetes might impact your organs and body, we hope you’ll take better care to manage your blood sugar level levels the very best you can.