Diabetes remains one of the most serious health issues among minority communities. While the nation highlights major health concerns that disproportionately affect minority communities during April’s National Minority Health Month, Erlanger wants to focus on changing that disparity year-round.
Before she passed away at the age of 84, Mary Ida Vandross endured devastating pain that many people can’t imagine: the deaths of all four of her children, her grandson, and, decades prior, her husband. All six deaths were caused by complications of the same killer: diabetes.
If Mary’s name sounds familiar, that’s because her son was legendary R&B singer Luther Vandross, who died from complications of a diabetic stroke in 2005. He was 54 years old.
“I believe that had I known more about diabetes, I could have been more helpful to my family,” Mary once said. “Take care of yourself—that’s all I’m asking.”
But before we look at how to fight the disease, we need to know what diabetes is.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce any or enough of the hormone insulin, resulting in high blood sugar, or glucose, which is a critical source of energy for cells. The most common type of diabetes, accounting for 90% of all cases, is type 2 diabetes, which is preventable and means that the body produces insulin but reacts poorly to it.
The earlier diabetes is treated, the better your chances are of avoiding the consequences of the disease—such as damage to the nerves, kidneys, eyes, and feet, hearing loss, skin infections, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, African Americans are more susceptible to amputations, kidney disease, and blindness.
So, how do you protect yourself and your family from diabetes? And what can you do if you have been diagnosed? The good news is that adapting certain lifestyle behaviors can drastically improve your chances of preventing diabetes or protecting yourself from the complications.
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
Type 2 diabetes has been directly linked to obesity. One reason for this may be that fatty tissue can cause the body’s cells to resist insulin. Another reason may be that the foods that cause weight gain and obesity—such as processed foods high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat—are linked to developing diabetes, especially sugary drinks.
If you need to lose weight, start small. Losing even 10 to 15 pounds can have a positive impact on your health.
2. Eat a healthy diet.
Not only is a balanced diet good for your overall well-being and for losing weight, it’s vital to preventing and controlling diabetes. Include the following in your diet:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables (frozen fruits and vegetables with no added fat or sugar are also excellent options)
- Fish and lean meats
- Non-fat dairy products
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats
- Avoid: fried foods, processed foods, sugary desserts and drinks, high-sodium foods, foods high in trans and saturated fat
In order to maintain normal blood sugar levels, focus on eating small meals evenly spread throughout the day. Avoid skipping meals—this can lead to higher blood sugar levels and weight gain.
3. Get moving!
You don’t need special equipment or an expensive gym membership to lead an active lifestyle. Not only can exercise help you lose weight, it can also improve blood circulation, which is restricted by diabetes. Here are a few examples of physical activity you can begin today:
- Walking around your neighborhood or near work
- Cleaning your house
- Washing your car
- Resistance training (push-ups, squats, lunges, crunches, etc.)
- Swimming laps in a community pool
- Marching in place (or simply moving around) while watching TV or while on the phone
Get creative with your activity! As long as you’re moving, you’re engaging in healthy behavior.
4. Stop smoking.
Diabetes greatly increases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. And since smoking restricts blood flow, which raises blood pressure, your chances of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke are even greater if you smoke.
5. Take your medication.
If you already have diabetes, it’s vital that you take your medications without skipping doses. Many doctors even recommend medications to individuals that have a higher risk of the disease. If you have any questions about your prescriptions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
6. Test your blood sugar.
f you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor may recommend checking your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter. This meter will help you better control your diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you think a glucose meter is right for you.
7. Get help.
Are you or someone you care about at risk for diabetes? Is your life already being affected by the disease? We’re here to help.
Erlanger’s goal is to make diabetes a thing of the past in the southeast region. Speak with your primary care physician about your concerns or make an appointment at one of our conveniently located health centers to learn how you can live diabetes-free.