Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

The incidence of diabetes is spreading at an unprecendented rate. Do you know the risks?

Credit: Flickr /Jill Brown

Left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart problems, nerve damage and blindness

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of Canadians. In fact, it’s estimated that almost one-third of Canada’s population either has diabetes or is at risk of developing diabetes

Even more alarming is the fact that new cases of diabetes are being added to these ranks at an unprecedented rate.

What is Diabetes?

When food is digested it causes glucose (a major source of fuel for the body) to enter the bloodstream. When this happens the pancreas releases insulin, the hormone needed to deliver the glucose from the blood to muscle, fat and liver cells, where it can be used as fuel.

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin (or any at all) or when the body can’t use the insulin properly.

Risk Factors for Developing Diabetes

  • Having an immediate family member with diabetes

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 
9 lbs./4 kg

  • Being physically inactive

  • Being of Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent.

Key Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

  • Excessive thirst

  • Frequent urination

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Blurry vision

  • Frequent or recurring infections

  • Cuts or bruises that take a long time to heal

  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

  • Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection

Effects of Diabetes

Left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can lead to:

  • Heart disease and stroke

  • Kidney problems

  • Nerve damage

  • Eye disease or blindness

  • Amputation from peripheral vascular disease

  • Erectile dysfunction

To Reduce Your Diabetes Risk

Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese dramatically increases the risk of developing diabetes.

Butt out. The risk of developing diabetic complications is much higher in smokers.

Get physical. Exercise causes the body to use up blood sugar and improves its response to insulin. It also helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels while helping with weight loss and the maintenance of a healthy weight.

Eat a balanced diet. Focus on eating whole, high-fibre, low-fat foods, including legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats and fish. Choose polyunsaturated fats found in salmon, nuts, flax or olive oil, and avoid processed foods. Choose foods with a lower glycemic index (GI); e.g., choose whole-grain bread over white bread. Foods low in GI carbohydrates produce smaller changes in blood glucose and insulin levels.

Limit alcohol. An average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day is considered moderate consumption.

Cut the caffeine. There’s evidence that caffeine increases blood glucose levels. If you love coffee, try switching to decaf.

Learn to manage stress. Stress may contribute to elevated blood pressure, which may increase risk factors in diabetics.

Go for regular check-ups (especially after age 40) with your doctor, dentist and eye specialist. Early detection often makes the problem easier to treat.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.