In a very simplified explanation, Type 2 Diabetes affects the way we use the food we eat. To explain a bit more, the pancreas stops producing enough of the hormone, insulin, to help us process the carbohydrates we eat. When we aren’t able to absorb the sugar we eat, it results in high circulating blood sugar levels. This is much different from type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder, where the body attacks the pancreas which is then no longer able to produce any insulin. Let’s explain how the body functions normally and then go into how Type 2 Diabetes affects that normal function:
When we eat food it is broken down into sugar, among other things. As that sugar enters the bloodstream it signals the body to release insulin from the pancreas to help take that sugar into the cells and out of the bloodstream. Think of insulin like the key to the cell’s door. Insulin grabs the sugar and unlocks a cell’s door to supply the cell with sugar. As we over consume sugar and carbohydrates the cells and tissues can become less responsive to insulin, which is called insulin resistance. When we become insulin resistant, we aren’t able to uptake as much sugar. This in turn results in the pancreas producing more insulin to still try to get the cells to uptake the sugar. Eventually the pancreas isn’t able to keep up with that high of insulin demand and production. This results in high blood sugar levels since the cells and tissues aren’t uptaking the sugar. High blood sugar levels can damage parts of our body if left unresolved and can lead to higher risks of heart disease.
As mentioned previously, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the body and make you more prone to things such as:
The American Diabetes Association notes that around half of the people diagnosed with diabetes experience nerve damage or neuropathy.¹ Nerve damage can occur in the feet and eyes which can lead to amputations or blindness, respectively, among many other places in the body. In addition to neuropathy, diabetes can cause the kidneys to filter too much blood, which puts a lot of strain on the kidneys and could cause kidney disease. Finally, a person’s risk for having heart disease goes up if they have diabetes due to uncontrolled blood sugars damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the heart. Some risk factors and causes the CDC mentions for developing diabetes would be if you have prediabetes, are over 45 years old, are overweight, or are active less than three times per week.² In addition, being insulin resistant, having a family history of Type 2 Diabetes and even certain people of genetic descent are more prone to developing Type 2 Diabetes.
As there are a fair amount of complications that could come about from uncontrolled diabetes, it would be very beneficial to meet with a registered dietitian to approach blood sugar control from the food side. Even meeting with a registered dietitian to be proactive about addressing food and lifestyle habits especially if you have a family history of diabetes would be beneficial. With a type 2 diabetic diagnosis there could be medical intervention first or in combination with food and lifestyle changes, but there should always be food and lifestyle changes even if there is no medication.
When working with a dietitian to help control your blood sugars you could expect them to take a look at your current eating patterns to help reduce carbohydrates and sugar, pair your carbohydrates with protein and/or fats, set goals for moving your body, lower carb recipe resources, product recommendations, and more. By reducing your carbohydrate and sugar intake, we put less sugar into the system to be taken up and by pairing carbohydrates with protein and/or fat there is a slow down of absorption of the carbohydrates or sugar into the system. This is because it takes protein and fat longer to digest, so when eaten in combination everything takes longer to digest. While dietitians are not movement experts, developing goals to move your body is always beneficial especially for diabetes as it helps the body absorb more sugar by making the tissues more sensitive to the sugar.
While being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes can be scary, a registered dietitian can help with the understanding of how to make simple changes within the diet and lifestyle to help with blood sugar control.
By Becky Rinehart, Registered Dietitian
Becky Rinehart is a Registered Dietitian in the state of Texas.