How to Prevent Diabetes
September 23, 2020
September 15-October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month and Denver Health is committed to helping all of our patients be a part of the most healthy community possible. Kevin Depner, MD from the new Sloan's Lake Primary Care Center, writes about one of the most common diseases affecting the Hispanic/Latino population – diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, Hispanics/Latinos are more likely to have Type 2 Diabetes than non-Hispanic whites (17 percent vs. 8 percent). Background is just one of the risk factors for getting this disease. Read on to learn more.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is an increasingly common disease in which an individual's blood sugar becomes elevated over a prolonged period of time. Blood sugar is naturally regulated by a hormone made in your body, called insulin. Insulin helps lower blood sugar – for example, it is released after meals or sugary snacks. Over time, your body can lose its ability to respond to insulin and lower its blood sugar, resulting in diabetes.
According to the CDC, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes, which is more than one in 10 adults. They also estimate that nearly one in five people with diabetes do not even know they have it. Additionally, it's estimated that 84 million Americans (1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes, a condition where the blood sugar is elevated, but not yet high enough to cause diabetes. With this in mind, it's important to know if you could be at risk for diabetes, how to lower your risk and prevent diabetes, how and when to be tested for diabetes, and how diabetes is treated.
Who is at Risk for Diabetes?
Diabetes can affect anyone, but there are some important risk factors to consider. There are two different kinds of risk factors for diabetes – some risk factors are inherited or genetic, and cannot be controlled. The good news is that a large number of other risk factors we do have control over, and they are largely related to lifestyle habits such as diet and physical activity. These are called modifiable risk factors, because working in conjunction with your primary care provider or other healthcare professional, you can work to change them and decrease your risk for developing diabetes.
Some examples of risk factors individuals don’t have control over:
- Age – the chance of developing diabetes increases as we grow older, and it is more common in individuals over the age of 45
- Race/Ethnicity – Individuals of African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native descent are at higher risk of developing diabetes (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk)
- Genetics — Individuals who have parents or siblings with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing diabetes themselves
The good news is that many of the risk factors for diabetes can be controlled by individuals. Some examples of risk factors individuals DO have control over are:
- Weight — individuals who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of developing diabetes
- Diet — individuals who eat a lot of processed or sugary foods increase their risk of developing diabetes
- Activity — individuals who get limited to no physical activity or exercise are also at increased risk of developing diabetes
How Can I Know if I Am at Risk of Diabetes or Prediabetes?
There are several ways to find out if you are at increased risk of getting prediabetes or diabetes. First, a medical provider, such as your primary care physician, can assist in reviewing your risk factors and determine if you should be tested for diabetes. There are also tests available online that can help you determine if you are at increased risk. The CDC offers this easy-to-complete online screening tool that just takes a few minutes, and will help determine if you are at increased risk for diabetes and should discuss getting tested with your doctor.
Tips for Lowering My Risk of Getting Diabetes
The most important risk factors you can change to lower your risk of developing diabetes include managing your weight, diet and activity level. At first, making these changes can seem overwhelming, but it's important to know that even small changes can have a big impact on your risk of developing diabetes. For example, if you are overweight or have prediabetes, losing even five to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your chance of developing diabetes by over half!
Other lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of developing diabetes include:
- If you have the option, skip the elevator and take the stairs
- Take a 20-minute walk during your lunch break or after dinner
- Take up an active hobby such as gardening
- At the grocery store, park in the back of the lot far away from the entrance to get in extra steps
- If you have joint pain or arthritis, take up exercise or walking in the pool
- Cut down on soda – keep a bottle of cool water or unsweetened tea at your desk
- Skip the fast food – wake up 10 minutes earlier than normal and take the time to pack a nutritious, healthy lunch
- Use smaller plates – it's a great way to control portion size when eating
There are many, many ways to reduce your risk of developing prediabetes or diabetes. It's important to set small, achievable goals, and to remember that it doesn't take huge or drastic lifestyle changes to have a positive impact on your health. Your healthcare team at Denver Health can also help you identify your risk factors and create an achievable plan to help reduce your risk!
How to Get Tested for Diabetes
You may be wondering, 'If I am at increased risk for getting diabetes, what is the next step? Is there a test I can take to see if I have diabetes?' If you are concerned about diabetes, or believe you are at increased risk, you can discuss this with your Denver Health provider, and together they can help you determine the next steps. While in-person visits are available, it is also possible to discuss your risk for diabetes and determine if you should be tested over the phone. If you and your provider determine you should be tested, it will only require a quick trip to any Denver Health lab site for a simple blood test to determine if you may have prediabetes or diabetes. The first step is to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, by calling 303-436-4949 or through the free MyChart app.
Treatment Options for Prediabetes and Diabetes
The good news is that there are many available treatments for diabetes which work to lower your blood sugar, and prevent complications like infections, nerve damage, heart disease and kidney disease. All of the same lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of developing diabetes are also effective in treating diabetes. There are also additional treatment options available to discuss with your Denver Health provider, such as meeting with a dietician to learn more about healthy eating, enrolling in our Healthy Lifestyle courses and medications. Medications can include pills, as well daily injections such as insulin, and even weekly injections of other medications. Your healthcare provider will be able to help determine what medications will work best for you.
Dr. Kevin Depner is a primary care physician at the new Denver Health Sloan's Lake Primary Care Center, located at 4007 W. Colfax Ave., conveniently serving patients in East Lakewood, Edgewater, and Denver’s Sloan’s Lake, West Colfax and Villa Park neighborhoods. To make an appointment for a primary care visit at the new clinic or at any of Denver Health's 10 Community Health Centers, call the Denver Health Appointment Center at 303-436-4949 or use the free MyChart app.