Living With Diabetes: Practical Ways To Manage The Condition Better (Part 1)

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

A malfunction of the body’s metabolism, diabetes causes abnormal levels of blood sugar. Insulin—a hormone produced by the pancreas—plays a vital role in helping cells absorb glucose. If there is insufficient production of insulin, cells do not absorb glucose properly and blood sugar rises. The levels also increase if cells do not respond to insulin appropriately.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce any insulin. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, which is why it is also called juvenile diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces less insulin than required, or when the insulin doesn’t work appropriately. It is most commonly diagnosed in persons over 40.

Living With Diabetes
While it can be a life-changing condition, diabetes need not define who you are or stop you from getting the most out of life. With careful management, you can control diabetes instead of it controlling you and lead the life you want to live.

As there are a number of factors that influence your blood sugar levels, keeping a tab on them can be quite a challenging task. In the first of this two-part series, we tell you how food, exercise and alcohol influence your blood glucose levels and what you can do to manage them.

1. Food
Food is the cornerstone of a healthy living. If you have diabetes, it is important for you to know how certain foods influence your blood sugar levels. Besides knowing about the foods that matter, you should also be careful about the quantity and combination of food types you need to adhere to.

  • Eat A Balanced Meal: Make sure your meals have a balance of vegetables, proteins, fats, fruits and complex carbohydrates (carbohydrates with fiber such as peas, beans and whole grains). Consult a nutritionist to determine the food types you need and the right balance suited to your body type.
  • Know Your Portion Sizes: A portion size should usually contain the right balance of different foods and in the right quantityUse measuring cups or a scale to ensure proper portion size and an accurate carbohydrate count. Your nutritionist will help you chart out the exact portions of food you need to have.
  • Stay Away From Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: Sugar-sweetened beverages are high in calories and contain high fructose corn syrup or sucrose (table sugar). These foods raise blood sugar levels very quickly and must be avoided.
  • Manage Your Medications & Meals: While you’re on medication (especially insulin), eating less food can make your blood sugar levels drop and lead to hypoglycemia. Eating too much food, on the other hand, can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and result in hyperglycemia. Consult your doctor in order to learn how to schedule your medicines with your meal timings.

2. Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the major contributors to elevated blood sugar levels. Muscles use glucose for energy. When you exercise, the body begins to utilize insulin more efficiently and this helps lower blood sugar levels. Simple light activities such as gardening or taking the stairs instead of the lift can help improve your blood sugar levels.

  • Stick To An Exercise Schedule: Fix a specific time for exercising daily. Speak to your doctor to determine the exercise time based on your medication and meal schedule. As a general practice, adults need to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Check Your Blood Sugar Before, During & After Exercise: It is important to check your blood sugar levels before, during and after exercise, especially if you are taking medicines and insulin to lower your blood sugar. Any new form of exercise or strenuous activity can lower your blood sugar levels. Watch out for signs of low blood sugar such as feeling hungry, excessive fatigue, anxiousness, a lightheaded feeling, irritation and trembling of hands and feet. If you notice these symptoms, quickly grab a light snack or take a glucose tablet.
  • Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can affect blood sugar levels, which is why it is important to drink plenty of water while exercising.

3) Alcohol
The liver is responsible for releasing stored sugar to counter the fall in blood sugar levels. However, if the liver is kept busy metabolizing alcohol, your blood sugar levels may not get its much-needed boost from the liver. Drinking alcohol can directly result in lowering blood sugar shortly after consumption and the effect could last for up to 24 hours.

A few things to remember:

  • Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach as it could lead to hypoglycemia.
  • Choose drinks with fewer calories, such as light beer and dry wines.
  • Check your blood sugar levels before you hit the bed. Failing to do so may cause hypoglycemia while you are asleep, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

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References:
1. American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes — 2014. Diabetes Care. 2014;37(suppl):s14.

2. Diabetes and me: Eat right. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/consumer/eatright.htm.

3. Diabetes and me: Be active. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/consumer/beactive.htm.

4. Alcohol. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/alcohol.html.

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