Damage from diabetes can start at ‘pre-diabetes’ blood sugar levels, so even if you have not been diagnosed for diabetes, you may still be at high risk for diabetes complications such as heart disease, kidney or nerve disease or eye disease.
Diabetes is called a ‘silent killer’ because it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a silent insidious disease that can gradually creep up on you so subtly that you may not notice it is happening. With the increasing proliferation of sugar and sweeteners added to foods, it’s especially hard to avoid added sugars. Many foods that you would never consider as ‘sweet’ have a surprising amount of sugar added. Even something as seemingly minor as ingesting just one soda or fruit juice a day can increase the odds of developing diabetes up to 80%.
Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include:
- Being overweight—even just 5-10 pounds overweight
- Eating a high carbohydrate diet—even if you think you are avoiding added sugars
- Ingesting sweet drinks, energy drinks or other so-called ‘health’ foods with added sugars
- Being over the age of 45
- Having a relative with diabetes
- Ethnic backgrounds of African, Native American, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islander
- Gestational diabetes if you have ever been pregnant
- High blood pressure (140/90) or even borderline high blood pressure
- LDL Cholesterol over 150, HDL under 35, and high triglycerides of 250+
Often diabetes can have no noticeable symptoms, or symptoms that you would never link to high blood sugar. Since symptoms can vary from person to person, and vary in their severity, there can be a wide range of unusual health symptoms that are unique and individual.
One of the primary things to understand about diabetes and high blood sugar is that there is no line drawn in the sand in which you cross over and you suddenly have health issues. Think of diabetes and high blood sugar as a spectrum, where optimal blood sugar levels are consistently in the 70’s and 80’s, with HbA1C levels below 5%. Once these levels begin to rise beyond that, you’ve entered the diabetes risk spectrum and you’ve opened the door to the damage that high blood sugar can cause.
Borderline high blood sugar and Pre-diabetes are not benign conditions. Once you are in the ‘pre-diabetic’ range, damage is already occurring to your heart, blood vessels and organs. In fact, research shows that roughly two-thirds of patients admitted to the ER for heart attacks already had ‘pre- diabetes’. Risk of a heart attack increases with any rise in blood sugar beyond optimal levels. The fact is pre-diabetes can kill you from heart attacks, strokes, and cancer—before you ever get diagnosed as diabetic.
So if you’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, don’t think there isn’t anything to worry about until you get to the point of an actual diabetes diagnosis.
Diabetes has plenty of early signs, but they are often so subtle you may not notice.
Blood sugar levels can begin to creep up gradually and the actual symptoms may be silent or be so subtle and gradual, you never really notice. But it doesn’t just happen over night. “…most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. However, if you pay attention to the signals your body is sending, you may be able to catch rising levels of blood sugar and still have time to possibly reverse the damage. These are some of the common (but often overlooked) high blood sugar symptoms to watch for:
1. Urinating frequently along with increased thirst-
While thirst and urination may be attributed to many things—environment, exercise, dehyradation, diet, medication, etc., if it is happening on a regular basis, it may be time to pay attention. When the body cannot lower blood sugar effectively anymore, higher levels than normal of glucose circulate in the system and your body helps to get rid of it by flushing it out through urine. Frequent urination of course, leads to increases in thirst. But don’t reach for that sugary drink or fruit juice—you are just exacerbating the situation!
2. Hungry and ‘hangry’-
When the body is not able to effectively regulate blood sugar, its levels tend to go up and down. A spike in blood sugar levels tends to be followed by a crash, causing shakiness, hunger and irritability. This causes cravings for more carbs or sugary foods and many people think this is the best way to relieve their blood sugar crash—by eating more carbs/sugary foods. This creates a vicious cycle that can raise blood sugar levels over time. Actually, the best way to stabilize blood sugar is to eat low carbohydrate foods and higher protein/healthy fats. This gets rid of the ‘hangries’ and helps to avoid future glucose ups and downs.
3. Lack of energy-
Blood sugar ups and downs can create a serious lack of energy. Sugary and starchy foods may offer a temporary lift, but the resulting dip in blood sugar can make it feel like you are slugging your way through quicksand every day. Over time, this can also contribute to the body’s inability to process energy from foods you are eating. A dip in energy can also decrease the desire and ability to get out and exercise, possibly causing weight gain—another risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
4. Irritable or depressed mood-
Blood sugar ups and downs can make you feel not only unwell, but can actually contribute to depression, anxiety and irritability. Too much sugar and starch can throw off the sensitive microbiome in your gut, which contributes a large portion of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy and calm. And generally when your body is unwell, your brain actually senses this, and you feel ‘bad’. So pay attention to any depression, anxiety or irritability—your body may be trying to tell you something important.
5. Slow healing
Again, this is one of those things that can develop slowly, so it may be so gradual, you just don’t notice. Slow healing and a tendency to develop inflammation or infections is a big indicator that you may have high blood sugar. What is considered slow healing? Most cuts and scrapes, if relatively minor, will heal within a week to ten days. If it takes 2-3 weeks or more and stays red, swollen and possibly infected, it may be worth checking blood sugar levels, as well as getting your wounds treated.
6. Yeast infections and urinary tract infections
Higher than normal levels of sugar in the body can also feed yeast infections like Candida, along with certain pathogenic bacteria. Candida organisms feed off glucose, so what you eat and drink may be actually be encouraging a Candida infection. Candida live in a person’s digestive tracts, and the vagina, but are normally kept in balance. Out of control candida is usually an indicator that your body’s immune system, and possibly blood sugar are out of whack. Glucose in the urine also feeds bacteria and yeast that normally do not survive. Recurrent urinary tract infections, along with frequent or ongoing yeast infections are a good reason to get checked out by a medical professional.
7. Blurry vision
Way before blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the eye causing diabetic retinopathy, vision can become blurry. In the early stages of diabetes or pre-diabetes, higher than normal levels of glucose can cause blood to thicken, and can actually build up in the eye, temporarily changing its shape, and making it harder to focus. While this can be a chronic, ongoing issue, it can also only happen after eating a high-carb meal or a sugary drink or dessert. The blurriness can be resolved once blood sugar is under control and stabilized, but it can take 3 to 6 months.
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