Have you just been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus or you have been living with it for quite some time? You must have heard of so many dos and don’ts which made you even more confused. Don’t worry; here are the basic things you must know. Join me let’s explore them.

What is diabetes mellitus (DM)?

DM is a long-lasting condition arising from either

  • Insufficient insulin in the body (type 1 DM) or
  • Reduction in the response of the body cells to insulin (type 2 DM)

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, an organ in the body. Its main job is to help the body cells take in glucose from the blood. Glucose is the end product of digestion of carbohydrate and the main energy source of the body cells. When any of the two conditions above arise, the body cells have difficulty in taking in glucose from the blood.

Thus the implication of this situation is of two folds:

  • Glucose accumulating in the blood without getting into the cells
  • Body cells lacking glucose, their main energy source, even though they’re surrounded by an excess of it in the blood — lacking in the midst of plenty.

As a result, the body cells crave for energy and resort to other sources like stored fats; a process which may produce excessive acidic products that worsen the situation. They also induce hunger pangs which will lead to further accumulation of glucose in the blood whenever you eat.

How DM can affect your body systems

The effects of DM arise from

  • The consequences of body cells’ response to their lack of glucose, their main source of energy,
  • The effects of prolonged glucose accumulation in the blood,
  • The effect of another disease or stressful conditions like childbirth on blood glucose level and
  • The side effects of the treatment such as low blood glucose.

The consequences of body cells’ response to their lack of glucose include

  • Frequent hunger leading to further accumulation of glucose in the blood whenever you eat.
  • Excessive breakdown of stored fats as an alternative source of energy leading to excessive quantities of acidic substances like ketones. This can lead to a more serious situation and unconsciousness — a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.

The effects of prolonged glucose accumulation in the blood include

  • Damage to blood vessels to the brain which can lead to stroke
  • Damage to blood vessels of the heart which can lead to heart diseases
  • Damage to blood vessels to the kidney which can lead to chronic kidney disease
  • Damage to blood vessels of the nerves leading to numbness, pains etc
  • Damage to blood vessels of the legs which can lead to easy bruises and sometimes serious foot problems like decay which will lead to amputation and
  • Many others — any system in the body can be affected.

Others diseases or stressful conditions can affect blood glucose level:

  • Infections, heart diseases, stroke, etc, can put the body under stress and lead to a sudden rise in blood glucose to dangerously high levels — a condition called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state. It is a very serious situation and requires critical management by specialists.
  • Prolonged childbirth too can, if not well managed.

The side effects of the treatment could be

  • Low blood glucose which may manifest initially as hunger, sweating, dizziness but can quickly progress to unconsciousness if not taken care of immediately. Mostly a problem for those taking insulin but can occur with some other drugs too.
  • Other side effects of drugs such as stomach upset.

Key factors in managing your DM

  • Compliance with your medications
  • Commitment to the diabetic lifestyle
  • Monitoring your condition
  • Getting diabetes education.

Medications

Just like most long-term diseases, DM requires lifelong treatment with medications. Thus your compliance with the medications is very important in managing DM.
The medication can be insulin or oral drugs like metformin, glimepiride, etc. Your doctor will choose the right medications for your own situation. Make sure you take them as prescribed.

Lifestyle changes

You will have to make changes in

  • What you eat
  • How you eat
  • How you exercise
  • Your social habit.

Diet

Eat less of carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are responsible for most of the glucose that gets to your blood. Thus reducing the quantity of carbs you take will reduce the accumulation of glucose in your blood and make the job of your drugs easier.

When taking carbs, go for the natural and unprocessed ones like whole grain, legumes, vegetables, and fruits as these are packed with other nutrients like vitamins and minerals as well as lots of fiber, which is good for bowel movement. You can also take food products with a low glycemic index such as Pasta, whole wheat bread, rye bread, all-bran cereal, oatmeal, oat bran, etc.

However the quantity you take matters more than the glycemic index of the carbs. Meet your dietician to work out the right quantity per serving that is good for you. Always read the label and contents of whatever food product you’re buying.

Take more of protein: Foods rich in protein include

  • Plant-based proteins such as beans and beans products, lentils, peas, and soy nuts
  • Fish and seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids like albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines, and salmon
  • Chicken and turkey without skin, egg white, etc.

Reduce red meat especially processed red meat products: They contain too many unhealthy fats and salts. Always read food labels and ingredients to be sure of its contents before purchase.

Take more fruits: Fruits are very nutritious. They supply the body with plenty of vitamins and minerals which help the body to function well. When taking fruits, go for low-calorie fruits such as avocado, apple, blueberry, papaya, etc.

Eat more vegetables: They are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as lots of fiber. Examples are Carrots, Cauliflower, Artichoke, Asparagus, Broccoli, Cabbage, etc.

Eat more of fiber-rich foods: They improve bowel movement and give a feeling of being filled without eating too much. This helps you to control the amount you eat per meal. Fiber-rich foods include black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chickpeas (garbanzos), white beans, and lentils. Fruits with edible skin as well as vegetables are rich in fiber too.

Reduce fat intake: But more importantly, replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats as much as possible. Unhealthy fats are in egg yolk, palm oil, butter, margarine, full-fat cheese, ice cream, whole milk, chocolates, French fries, lard, pork, high-fat beef, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, bologna, chicken skin, etc. Avoid or significantly reduce their intake. Instead go for foods that are rich in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids seen in flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnut, soybeans products, as well as certain fishes like mackerel, sardines. Other sources of healthy fat which contain mono or polyunsaturated fatty acids include avocado, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sesame seeds, mayonnaise, cottonseed oil, olive oil, etc

Eating habits

  • Eat small quantity each meal but more often.
  • Avoid canned food: They contain too many preservatives like oil and salt that aren’t good for you.
  • Drink more water: Water helps your body system to cleanse unwanted toxins out of the body via urine, stool, and sweat.
  • Drink less fruit juice and beverages: They contain a lot of sugar. Read the contents before you take or you prepare the fruit juice yourself.

Exercise

If you want to manage your DM properly, physical activity is a must. Daily aerobic exercise is one sure way of getting enough physical activity. There are different exercises you can do such as swimming, running/jogging, walking, etc.
Exercises have so many benefits in your management of DM. They include but not limited to

  • It improves response to insulin making it easier to control blood glucose level
  • It helps you to lose weight
  • It trains the heart to work better, reducing the risk of heart diseases
  • It improves blood supply to the vital body organs and tissues such as brain
  • It leads to the production of endorphin which helps you relax
  • It makes you feel fitter and younger
  • It helps you to relieve stress
  • You can make new friends at the gym or fellow street runners as the case may be and have great fun. Some diabetic centers have exercise classes where you can get plenty of motivations.

Meet with your doctor to work out the right exercise for you. You must be totally committed to it.

Social habits

  • Drink less alcohol: Take more of water.
  • Avoid cigarette: It worsens the situation.

Monitoring your condition

Managing DM is a delicate process as complications can result from both the disease and its treatment. Thus adequate monitoring is important to ensuring a normal range of blood glucose level and preventing complications and infections. Both you and your doctor have roles to play. Your own roles include

  • Monitor your blood glucose level: Get a glucometer and monitor your blood glucose at least daily or twice daily if possible and keep a record to show your doctor on your next visit. Also, check your glucose level anytime you feel usual. If the glucose level is lower than normal, take some sugar and eat a full meal thereafter and then call your doctor. If high, inform your doctor.
  • Watch out for any sign of infection: Anytime you notice fever, or a cough, go and see your doctor. If possible get vaccinated against common infections. Taking a flu shot isn't a bad idea. Your doctor will advise you better.
  • Take good care of your skin. Avoid injuries as they could be sources of infection. Watch your toes and toenails for any change in color, especially if you have numbness. Numbness calls for extra caution to avoid injuries.
  • Make sure you keep to your regular clinical appointments.

During your clinical visits, your doctor joins in monitoring your condition by

  • Cross-checking your blood glucose record.
  • Doing a general check of your systems for early signs of complications and infections.
  • Running some tests like lipid profile, urine albumin, and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) which tells how well your glucose control has been in the past 3 months.

Diabetes education

Find out from your doctor if their facility is running one and get a referral. Most healthcare plans cover for diabetes education. Visit the diabetes education center and learn more about how you can be more proactive in your management. The diabetes educator will teach you about the disease and your role in your management such as

  • How to monitor your blood glucose level
  • How to care for your skin, teeth, toes, and toenails
  • How to check for early signs of complications
  • Healthy eating habit, etc.

In conclusion, DM is a serious long-term disease that can affect your entire body system. However, with proper care and your commitment to the diabetic lifestyle, you can enjoy a healthy and fulfilled long life.

Author's Bio: 

Emmanuel Ifeanyi Ekwomadu is a medical doctor and a writer who's got a great passion for helping people enjoy healthy lives. He does that through his compelling and educating articles on various health topics.

Contact him: anyiemadu@gmail.com