Diabetes can give rise to some very dire medical complications. However you can avoid these horrendous consequences by taking control of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is not difficult. Here’s how.
The medical complications that can arise when you have diabetes can be frightening.
They include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, crippling pains in your feet and hands due to neuropathy (nerve damage), glaucoma, retinopathy and cataracts, and a variety of infections among a host of other severe and disabling conditions.
But these complications are not inevitable—provided you can beat your diabetes by taking control of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Taking control is relatively easy.
In fact, nothing could be simpler. All you have to do is:
- eat properly;
- exercise a little;
- give up smoking;
- avoid stress; and
- get enough sleep.
But if you fail to do these things, your life will be shortened significantly and your last few years on this planet will be painful and messy.
In order to beat your diabetes and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, you need to eat a diet that consists primarily of natural foods that are low in sugar, fat and salt, and are high in fibre.
You should avoid eggs and all dairy products such as milk, cream, butter and cheese, for which you will find plenty of vegetable alternatives.
The food you eat should be the sort that is digested slowly, ie has a low glycemic index value. In addition, you need to drink plenty of water.
This diet may sound a bit daunting. But if you just stick to fresh fruit and vegetables, and only eat lean meat and fish you will following this diet. Nothing could be easier. And you will be surprised how delicious fresh food can taste.
As it is almost impossible to avoid processed foods entirely, you need to be adept at reading food labels. This skill is easily learned and once you know what to look for you will find choosing suitable foods easy and enjoyable.
All our tastes (with the exception of mother’s milk) are learned. The trick is to unlearn the high fat, over-sweet Western diets to which you are used. Once you have stopped eating gunge for a few weeks you will find that you no longer like it.
Exercising a little
Regular exercise helps you to reduce your blood glucose levels and to control your blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol.
But the sort of exercise I’m discussing here is no big deal. Thirty minutes of brisk walking a day will do the trick. And you can always break it up into several short sessions, as long as it all adds up to 30 minutes a day.
With a little bit of thought you can find ways to fit exercise into your daily routine. For example, use the stairs instead of the lift, at least for two or three flights, or walk to the shops instead of taking the car or park a good distance from the supermarket.
Giving up smoking
Smoking damages your body in several ways.
The nicotine in tobacco increases your cholesterol levels and constricts your arteries. This doubles your chances of heart disease and makes nerve damage and eye and kidney problems more likely.
When you smoke you inhale various tars, most of which are carcinogens, and carbon monoxide, which reduces you intake of oxygen. Minute particles in smoke clog and destroy your lungs. Lung cancer and emphysema are the natural outcomes of smoking.
To give up smoking, you need to tackle both your physical dependency and your psychological dependency on tobacco. Stopping smoking is probably the hardest part of beating your diabetes but it is also one of the most fundamental and vital.
There are several ways you can quit smoking. These include giving up gradually, going cold turkey, using nicotine replacement therapy or using drugs. There are also alternative treatments such as acupuncture and hypnosis.
Everyone is different. You will probably have to try several of these before you find the best way for you to give up the weed. I know. It took me five years. But give it up, you must.
When you are stressed, your body secretes adrenaline. This causes your blood pressure and blood glucose to rise. Long-term stress can lead to long-term elevated blood sugar levels.
Thus, to beat your diabetes, you need to reduce your levels of stress. To do so, you need to do two things.
Firstly, you need to cut out sources of stress as far as possible. It is impossible, of course, to avoid all stress in our lives but you should be able to avoid some of the situations you find stressful.
Secondly, you need to carve out a little space sometime during the day, of 15 to 30 minutes, where you can do something that relaxes you such as meditating, practising deep breathing, listening to music, dancing, doing aerobics or stretching exercises, or working on an absorbing hobby or craft.
Getting enough sleep
Studies indicate that people who sleep for more than seven hours a night seem to have better control of their blood glucose levels. Thus, it seems that plenty of sleep can be critical to beating your diabetes.
Checking your body
You need to know whether your programme for beating your diabetes is working. You can only be sure provided (a) you check you body for physical defects and (b) you keep an eye on your numbers, ie the levels of your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
As a diabetic, the two most important parts of your body that you can check yourself are your feet and your mouth.
Minor sores on your feet that are not treated promptly can lead to serious infections. The problem for diabetics is that high blood glucose can damage the nerves or cut the flow of blood to the feet so that they cannot feel the soreness you get from the usual minor cuts and bruises.
You need to check your feet daily, especially between the toes, looking for blisters, broken skin or warm or red spots. If you find a sore, treat it straight away.
Then check it regularly and if there is no improvement show it to your doctor. Many diabetics end up with gangrene of the feet and require their lower legs to be amputated.
Diabetes also increases your chances of gum disease and infections. Besides flossing and regular brushing with a soft toothbrush, you should inspect your mouth once a day for any signs of gum disease.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a check-up and teeth cleaning, making sure that your dentist knows that you are diabetic.
Monitoring your numbers
To ensure that you are in fact managing to beat your diabetes, you need to check your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels on a regular basis.
You can monitor a few of these at home. However most will have to be tested in a clinic.
Blood glucose levels
Ideally you should monitor your blood glucose level four times a day—when you awake in the morning and two hours after each meal. You can do so using a small portable blood glucose meter. These are simple and easy to use.
You should keep a log of your readings and aim for levels of 5–7 mmol/l (90–126 mg/dl).
Consistent readings above this range would be a cause for concern and, if you get them, you should review your diet and/or consult your doctor or diabetes clinic.
You should have a HbA1c test every four months or so. This gives an average of your blood sugar levels over a three or four month period and is the main indicator as to how well you are managing your diabetes.
You should aim for HbA1c levels that are less than 48 mmol/mol (6.5%), preferably a bit lower. This test can only be performed in your diabetes clinic.
If you have diabetes but are not yet hypertensive, you should have your blood pressure checked regularly, say four times a year.
If you both diabetic and hypertensive, you should monitor and record your blood pressure at home using a portable device. Aim for pressures below 115/75mmHg, with 112/64mmHg as an ultimate target.
As you are diabetic, there is an 85% chance that you also have issues with your cholesterol.
As well as taking any medicines your doctor prescribes for your cholesterol, such as statins, you should have your cholesterol and triglycerides levels checked regularly, at least twice a year.
Your target levels should be:
- LDL cholesterol—no more than 1.8mmol/l (70mg/dl) but try for 1.0mmol/l (40mg/dl)
- HDL cholesterol (for men)—above 1.2mmol/l (45mg/dl)
- HDL cholesterol (for women)—above 1.4mmol/l (55mg/dl)
- Cholesterol ratio—1:3 (ratio of HDL to total cholesterol)
- Triglycerides—less than 1.69mmol/l (150mg/dl)
There are several other tests you need to undergo at least once a year.
These include a dilated eye examination to check your sight which can be affected by your diabetes, sensitivity tests on your feet which can be damaged due to diabetic neuropathy, and micro-albumin and creatine tests to check for damage to your kidneys.
Your doctor or diabetes clinic will advise you of the most appropriate tests to monitor your efforts to beat your diabetes by taking control of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.