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Knowing your risk is critical

Every year, the number of diabetes cases in the U.S. continues to rise. Right now, 30 million Americans have diabetes, and our diet, exercise and health habits are likely to blame. Today, 1 in 10 U.S. adults has diabetes, and if the trends continue, 1 in 5 will have it by 2025.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance in the body, where the cells are unable to use the insulin effectively leading to high blood sugar. Over time, diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and other organ failures—resulting in high medical expenses and possibly even death.

“More than likely, you know someone with diabetes,” said Grace Zeleznock, a dietitian, nutritionist, and diabetes educator at Geisinger. “If you’re wondering about whether you’re at risk too, don’t wait—talk to your doctor. Your doctor can measure your blood sugar levels and help you manage your risk factors.”

To gauge your risk for developing diabetes, here are four questions to ask yourself.

Does anyone in your family have diabetes?
Your immediate family—your parents, brothers and sisters—is a good indicator of your diabetes risk. 

“There are two factors that cause diabetes—your environment and your genetics,” said Zeleznock. “People with diabetes have an inherited susceptibility to the disease. But it takes something in the environment to trigger it. In both cases, if there’s anyone in your immediate family with diabetes, your risk increases.”

In addition to genes, you also likely share habits with your family, such as diet and exercise routines. If someone in your immediate family has diabetes, it’s likely that you’re being exposed to similar factors. For example, if someone in your family smokes, their risk of diabetes increases. But because of second-hand smoke, your risk also increases.

Do you have high blood pressure?
While diabetes and high blood pressure may seem unrelated, some studies show that high blood pressure can increase your risk of diabetes by 60 percent.

Researchers aren’t sure what the link is between high blood pressure and possibly developing diabetes. However, some experts believe it’s because high blood pressure is often associated to weight gain and obesity, which is one of the main risk factors for developing diabetes. 

Do you get enough exercise?
Exercise helps you maintain your weight and blood sugar levels. Working out regularly can keep you fit and healthy. But according to the CDC, one in four Americans does not exercise at all.

“As a general rule, everyone should get 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week,” said Zeleznock. “If you get less than this, you may have a higher risk of obesity and heart disease. If 30 minutes of exercise is difficult for you at first, start small and work your way up.  Remember, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.  Your doctor can help find exercises that are just right for you.”

What is your diet like?
One of the main causes of diabetes is a poor diet, which can lead to excessive weight gain.

“If you eat a lot of sugary foods and drink sugary beverages like juice and soda, your risk of diabetes increases,” said Zeleznock. “Foods that are high in fats and cholesterol can also increase your risk of weight gain and diabetes. Try to eat a balanced diet and avoid foods with high levels of fat, cholesterol and added sugar.”

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugar you consume. Therefore, men should limit to no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar or what is about 150 calories per day and for women about 100 calories or 6 teaspoons of sugar. Avoid eating generous portions of red meat as it is high in cholesterol. Cut back on the number of processed foods you eat—foods like white bread or white rice -- and focus on eating whole grain bread, cereal and rice products. 

If you are struggling to manage your risk factors, talk to your doctor. They can recommend strategies and even other healthcare professionals including dietitians and personal trainers  to help you lower your risk.

Grace Zeleznock, RDN, LDN, CDE
, see patients at Geisinger clinics in Wilkes-Barre, Mountain Top and Hazleton. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.