There’s no better time than Men’s Health Month to discuss an issue that is unfortunately on the rise for men – diabetes. In fact, one of the biggest jumps in type 2 diabetes was among men, and the risk for diabetes usually increases with age. But a lack of understanding and education about the disease is a significant barrier when it comes to good health.
What is diabetes?
When you have diabetes, your body can’t properly control blood glucose. Food is normally broken down into glucose, a form of sugar, which is then released into the blood. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, stimulates cells to use glucose for energy. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when tissues in the body become resistant to the effects of insulin. Eventually, blood sugar levels begin to climb.
The Dangers of Diabetes
High glucose levels in the blood cause nerve damage, as well as damage to blood vessels. In turn, this damage can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, gum infections, blindness, as well as issues like erectile dysfunction and sleep apnea. Moreover, the death rate from heart disease is much higher for men who have diabetes, while amputation rates due to diabetes-related issues are higher for men than women.
Who is at risk?
As mentioned, the risk factor for type 2 diabetes usually increases with age, and it’s advised that testing for this disease should begin at age 45 – even in the absence of risk factors. Those risk factors include:
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle with little activity. Studies show that overweight people improve their blood sugar control when they become active.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and sugar and low in fiber and whole grains.
- Having a history of type 2 diabetes in your immediate family, such as a mother, father, sister or brother.
- Those with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes also includes African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Native Alaskans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
- Aging – because the body becomes less tolerant of sugars as you get older.
- People who have metabolic syndrome, which is a group of problems related to cholesterol.
What’s scary is that an estimated 7 million people in the United States don’t know that they have diabetes. Meanwhile, millions of people have elevated blood sugars that aren’t yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, but are considered to have prediabetes and are at greater risk for diabetes in the future. However, doctors can easily check for diabetes through blood tests that measure blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of Diabetes
- Any of the following are symptoms of diabetes, and you should get tested for the disease if you’re experiencing them:
- An increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Frequent urination, particularly at night
- Blurred vision
- Sores that won’t heal
- Unexplained weight loss
Diabetes clearly is a disease with serious health implications, but the good news is that the vast majority of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or significantly delayed through a combination of exercise and healthy eating. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, losing a modest amount of weight (10 to 15 pounds) can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes. Cells in the muscles, liver, and fat tissue become resistant to insulin when you’re carrying excess weight. It’s recommended that you build up to 30 minutes of activity a day, five days a week.
Experts also say that a healthy diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables – with small amounts of sugar and carbohydrates – can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.
In many cases, lifestyle changes like the ones listed above can keep diabetes under control. Many people, however, need to take oral medications that lower blood sugar levels. When those aren’t effective, insulin injections (or insulin that’s inhaled) may be necessary, sometimes in conjunction with oral medication. Diabetes treatment has improved over the years, but controlling it still remains a challenge.