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November 7, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

After receiving several questions about my previous blog on type 1 diabetes, I wanted to help clear up the confusion on just how type 1 and type 2 diabetes differ.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 9 adults have diabetes and, if current trends continue, 1 in 3 will be diagnosed by 2050...

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is often confused with type 2 diabetes mellitus because of the similarity of their names.

Type 2 Diabetes is the more prevalent version of diabetes, commonly referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes, and affects millions of Americans. The name "non-insulin dependent" makes more sense once you understand the role insulin places in our body.

What Does Insulin Do in Our Body?

Let's imagine you just sat down to enjoy a slice of pecan pie or a sweet sugar cookie... or both. The food travels into your stomach where the carbohydrates are quickly converted into simple sugars or glucose. As these sugars enter the bloodstream, the pancreas release insulin to help remove the sugar and deliver it into the cells for energy.

Just think of insulin as the key to unlock the cell's door.

Without insulin, the sugar just hangs out and wreaks havoc in your arteries.

Why Does Type 2 Diabetes Develop?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the insulin is no longer able to effectively deliver sugar (glucose) out of the blood stream and into your cells - something that is more likely to occur if you have a diet rich in sweet treats, processed or refined carbohydrates, and sugary beverages.

The reduced ability of our insulin may be due to the fact that the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep up with the spiking blood sugar levels or because our insulin becomes overwhelmed with the massive job before it, a result of a diet rich in sweets. Both may result in a sluggish response by the pancreas to secrete insulin or simply sluggish insulin.

Essentially, type 2 diabetes is the result of exhausting the pancreas through a poor diet with excess calories - commonly found in combination with a state of overweight or obesity, yet this is not a requirement.

Even adults who look fit may be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes due to poor dietary habits (soda, sugary drinks, candy, skipping breakfast, etc.), a phenomenon referred to as TOFI (thin outside, fat inside). 

Because the insulin is only able to remove some of the sugars, the remaining sugar causes damage to our blood vessels and nerves. If this disease is not managed properly it can lead to health complications such as hardened arteries, nerve damage, or vision loss.

This version used to be known as Adult-Onset diabetes as it was only found in adults, though just as the prevalence of overweight and obesity has moved from the adult population into our children, type 2 has made the transition as well.

Treatment and Care with Type 2 Diabetes

When it comes to managing diabetic complications, treatment is found in lifestyle changes. By taking control of your diet and activity level, you'll be able to improve your blood sugar levels.

Diabetes management requires self-monitoring of blood glucose levels, and, in some cases, oral drugs and/or insulin. One of the most important aspects of diabetes management is carbohydrate counting.

Following a consistent carbohydrate diet is key as this macronutrient is most quickly broken down into glucose (the simplest form of sugar, a carbohydrate) and impacts your blood sugar levels the most. Carbohydrates are certainly NOT off limits, diabetics will just need to manage the amount consumed at one time. A good rule of thumb is to stick within the range of 15-30 grams of carbohydrates for a snack and 45 grams-60 grams for a meal – depending on your size and activity level of course.

Type 2 diabetes is certainly manageable and a registered dietitian can help you come up with a healthy, balanced, and consistent carb meal plan that works for you - including the foods you enjoy! Nothing has to be off limits, rather enjoyed in moderation when it comes to those with carbohydrates.

By including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins, you will not only help to maintain stable blood sugar levels, you may even lose weight by improving your dietary habits.

It's Not a Life Sentence!

What is incredible is that unlike type 1 diabetes, a healthy lifestyle (nutritious diet and exercise) may help to reverse type 2 diabetes into a state of remission reducing or eliminating the need for medication. 

Some data indicates that up to 75-80% of people with type 2 diabetes may be able to reverse their disease to the point of full remission - one which may last for years.

For those with TOFI, exercise is the missing link and a major means of diabetes prevention. Because a healthy lifestyle will help you to feel better anyway and help to reduce your risk of heart disease (a risk that is heightened with diabetes), why not start making changes in your diet and activity level today?

It certainly won’t hurt!

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  • nice message Jessica. I will be giving up pop again after reading this! I stopped drinking pop this summer for 2-3 months and I did not notice any difference in the way I felt, maybe that's because only my insides noticed! Thanks for the information.

  • Love your humor, Nancy :) Not too mention your dedication, 12 weeks of change requires incredible dedication! A colleague of mine recently began a Diet Coke detox, she may have some helpful tips for you:

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