Diabetes is a huge concern in our society, it wouldn’t surprise me (though it certainly does sadden me) if most of you at home either love someone or are someone who is living with this disease. It has been a common word in my own family as well. Many of the women I love live or lived with this struggle and I myself was prediabetic, well on my way to my own diagnosis. I decided a long time ago that this cycle needed to stop within my own family, and I want to see it end in your family as well.
Our televisions are flooded with commercials promoting the latest medication or glucose testing equipment, all of which
promise to provide a better quality of life for sufferers. What I am not seeing a lot of is discussion surrounding what diabetes actually is, what causes it, how it effects the bodys ability to function properly and what can be done to fix the problem without a lifetime of costly medications and devices. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is certainly encouraged but when it comes to veganism and diabetes, can it really make a difference?
What is Diabetes, Anyway?
Diabetes Canada defines diabetes as “a disease in which your body either can’t produce insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it produces. So let’s break that down a little more. First we need to know a little about insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. This is an important role for two reasons:
One, we need insulin to convert glucose into energy for us (something I could always use more of). Secondly, it is extremely important for the body to maintain healthy levels of glucose within the blood as too much can lead to damaged organs, blood vessels, and nerves. A particularly painful symptom of this damage is known as Diabetic neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage caused by diabetes.
There is more than one type of diabetes we need to be aware of, mind you and they aren’t all caused by poor diet!
Type 1 Diabetes
10% of the diabetic population of Canada is affected by Type 1 diabetes. Someone living with this type of diabetes is not capable of producing their own insulin naturally within the body. Though the reason for this remains unknown, it is believed that this happens as the result of the individuals immune system destroying the cells that produce insulin. What ever the cause, without insulin the body has no way of regulating its own sugar levels or to properly convert glucose into a usable energy source. Most people develop type 1 diabetes as children or young adults, however it can develop at any age.
The symptoms of diabetes are the same, regardless of the type which makes it easier to know what to look for. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing one or more of the following common symptoms:
weight change (gain or loss)
extreme fatigue or lack of energy
frequent or recurring infections
cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
trouble getting or maintaining an erection
In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the symptoms can manifest quickly, so pay attention to your body. This type of diabetes is managed through insulin injections which help to supplement the insulin not produced by the body. Regular exercise and a healthy diet that emphasizes obtaining natural sugars (those found in fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods) are vital to maintaining healthy glucose levels within the body, helping to prevent complications from the diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
This is the most common diagnosis for someone living with diabetes; in fact, 90% of diabetics are Type 2. This can be positive news as it is the type of diabetes most significantly impacted by lifestyle. This means that there is a lot you can do to effectivly manage or even reverse the condition!
Type 2 diabetes is the result of the body either not producing enough levels of insulin or of not being able to properly utilize the insulin it has. This leads to a build up of glucose in the blood, left unchecked this can cause seriouse health problems. It is important to pay attention to the risk factors (discussed in the next section) that can make someone more likely to develop type 2 diabetes particularly because not everyone exhibits symptoms. This can result in someone living with diabetes for years undiagnosed and unmanaged.
Once diagnosed, type two diabetes can be managed through healthy diet and exercise, obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight, regular monitoring of your blood sugar, effective stress managment and in some cases medications prescribed by your doctor.
Gestational and Prediabetes
Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and effects roughly
3% – 20% of pregnancies according to Diabetes Canada. It is the result of the bodys inability to maintain normal insulin levels while also attempting to manage a growing baby and moms ever changing hormone levels.
Though in most cases the mother didn’t suffer from diabetes before becoming pregnant, she may have some risk factors that make her more likely to develop the condition such as obesity or a familial history of diabetes. Typically speaking, Gestational diabetes will subside once baby is born and moms hormone levels begin to return to normal.
Testing for this condition is typically done between weeks 24-28 of pregnancy unless risk factors suggest testing should be done sooner. The test is simple, though I have to say, rather nauseating. The mother will be given a drink containing high levels of sugar. She will then be instructed to remain seated in the waiting area for 1 hour as any activity can cause the body to metabolize the sugars, throwing off the results of the test. At the end of the hour a vial of blood will be drawn so that the glucose levels can be most accurately read. If the results are positive or borderline for gestational diabetes, the mother will have to do a second test to confirm the diagnosis.
Gestational diabetes is a potentially serious condition that could lead to complications for both mother and child including preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), abnormal sugar levels in baby which could result in a NICU stay, baby can grow too large increasing the likelihood that a cesarean section will be needed and possible birth injury resulting from babies size and difficulties during the birth.
If you do develop gestational diabetes it is important to keep in regular contact with your health care team so they can track the changes through your pregnancy as well as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine and paying attention to your overall mental health (something we should all be doing!).
Prediabetes refers to when a patients blood sugar levels are dangerously high but not yet high enough to be c
type 2 diabetes. Almost every person who is now living with full-blown type 2 diabetes was once prediabetic. However, this does not mean that everyone who is prediabetic will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. It is reversible through diet and exercise.
Prediabetes is its own can of worms and should be recognized as the serious warning sign that it is. Let me share a bit about my experience with prediabetes. I have always been a big girl, but during college was certainly my biggest struggle. Poor sleeping and eating habits, sitting for hours at a time and constant stress had landed me in terrible health.
I was by far my heaviest at this time and it had begun to seriously impact my health. I started getting sick and having pains in my stomach which turned out to be a result of my liver being enlarged. I was also suffering from fatty liver disease and the cherry on the cake? I was now prediabetic and on the fast track to full-blown type 2 diabetes. Awesome.
The real turning point in my life that sparked a real and dramatic overhaul of my lifestyle wouldn’t happen for many years yet and I didn’t understand then the gravity of what was happening with my health. I though, okay well, I’m not actually diabetic and all I really need to do is lose some weight and I’ll be fine, no biggie (If it was that easy I highly doubt obesity would be the epidemic that it is but denial is a powerful thing).
What my doctor was actually saying to me was that I was in a pivotal position. My blood sugar levels were high enough to be a health risk but not high enough to be labeled diabetic. I was at a much greater risk for heart problems (heart attack, stroke, heart disease…) I was already causing serious damage to my body as my liver was attempting to tell me. Thankfully I am one of those people who didn’t advance to type 2. After college my life settled down a bit, I was more active and had a sensible routine that allowed for much healthier (comparatively anyway) sleeping and eating habits. I was far from out of the woods but at least the wolves had stopped nipping at my heels!
There are no symptoms of prediabetes but there are risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it. Some of the more common risk factors, as with type 2 diabetes, include being overweight (particularly if you have a lot of belly fat), an inactive lifestyle, a familial history of diabetes, a high-risk ethnic background and high blood pressure.
Pay attention to the warning signs and if you believe you may be at risk of prediabetes (or you are concerned you may already be prediabetic) make an appointment with your doctor and follow up with a nutritionist to discuss healthy eating options that suit your taste and budget and take steps to increase your activity levels. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, get off the bus one stop sooner, whatever you can do to add a bit more movement to your day is a great place to start!
So, What Have We Learned?
We have talked quite a bit now about what diabetes is and the different roles it can play. I have to admit, when I sat down to write this article, I had no idea how much it was going to impact me. As someone who is vegan, I often use it as a justification to indulge in sweets and treats far more often than I should, after all “How bad can it be, its vegan! At least I’m not eating meat!”. Something being vegan doesn’t magically make it healthy for you to eat. A vegan or plant based diet could be an immensely transformative switch in your lifestyle, but it still requires you to make healthy choices.
For example, cookies, cakes, chips, fast food, ice cream, candy and pies (to name a few) can all easily be made vegan. Even things like nut milks (a much healthier and cruelty-free alternative to dairy) come in sweetened and flavored variations loaded with unnecessary sugars. While I wish I could tell you that cutting out animal products would strip you of everything that ails you, at the end of the day it comes down to making healthy choices.
A diet that consists primarily of raw alkaline fruit and vegetables and excludes cooked, processed, acidic foods will have the greatest impact on your health. Kris Carr is a prime example of the dramatic way this change can affect your life. She was rid herself of terminal cancer without the use of any medication or chemotherapy, instead dedicating herself to a raw food alkaline diet. Did you get that? SHE CURED HER CANCER WITH FOOD. Others whom have made this switch have reversed any number or serious and potentially fatal diseases, including diabetes.
The long and short of it is that disease and illness are the result of mucus building up in the body and contaminating everything. Eventually our bodies become so acidic and full of mucus (lovely) that we become a breeding ground for disease. Returning our bodies to an alkaline state creates a hostile environment for disease and allows the body to function optimally. Diseases and viruses require certain conditions in which to thrive, like bed bugs or cockroaches. Remove what they need to prosper and make it a hostile environment and you will soon be rid of the little devils.
This is certainly a topic I intend to expand on in future posts as I believe there is a lot more to say. If you are interested in looking deeper into the subject, Dr. Sebi has a large collection of videos available on YouTube that expand on the topic of alkalinity and the body and Kris Carr has a number of books (including delicious recipe books) that delve deep into the topic as well. Both of which are excellent starting points if to continue your research.
I want to hear from you as well. What have your experiences been with diabetes? How has a plant based diet effected your health? What are your thoughts on alkalinity and the body?