Everyone loves dessert, right?

You’re hosting a big crowd, and it comes to that nice scrumptious dessert that you spent a lot of time on … and one of your guests won’t eat it.  How rude!  You put all that time and effort into making that masterpiece … and they won’t even taste it.  So you go over, and try to talk them into a piece … just a small piece.  “It won’t hurt your diet”, you say — because they must be on a diet if they aren’t eating your dessert.  They still decline … politely … but you can’t help feeling insulted …

There may be a good reason why they aren’t eating it — and it’s not because they don’t like it, or don’t want it … it may be because eating it could kill them.

Diabetes is a condition that makes it difficult (or impossible) for your body to process carbohydrates — which includes all forms of sugar.  You may be thinking, “Great — that is what’s making me fat … all those carbs that I eat just seem to turn straight into fat in all the wrong places.”  Unfortunately, that’s only partly correct.  In a properly functioning body, excess carbohydrates do end up getting converted into fat, but they make another conversion first:  into glucose.  Yes — that’s sugar.  All forms of carbohydrates, whether they start out as breads, pasta, fruit, candy, or that heaping spoonful of sugar you put in your coffee, end up as glucose in your blood stream.  Normally, the pancreas produces a substance called Insulin that helps your body use the glucose to feed your muscles, your brain, and other parts of your body that need glucose to function.  Yes, it also helps convert extra glucose into fat … but that’s what is supposed to happen so that your body has extra energy when it’s needed.

It’s this insulin that diabetics have a problem with … there just isn’t enough of it to take care of all the glucose that is in the blood stream.  So what’s the problem with having extra glucose in the blood?  The biggest problem is that elevated glucose levels have a toxic effect on most of the other systems in the body.  The kidneys work overtime to try to get that extra glucose out (which is why diabetics have to go to the bathroom a lot).  Excess glucose negatively impacts critical organs such as the heart and lungs.  Diabetes frequently compromises the immune system, increasing susceptibility to other diseases.  The most widespread impact of diabetes in the body is that it eats away at the nervous system.

When blood glucose levels are high, the sheath around the nerves starts to break down.  When this happens in your extremities (fingers, toes, etc.), numbness occurs, increasing the chance of undetected injuries.  If not treated soon enough, these injuries can lead to serious infection and (in extreme cases) amputation.  When it happens in the eyes, the vision starts to deteriorate — leading to eventual blindness.  Before research identified successful treatments for diabetes, it was a major cause of premature death — primarily due to the complications it causes.

Diabetes is called a disease, but it’s not usually something that you can catch … it’s part of everyone’s genetic makeup.  Most of the time it stays inactive, until something stresses the body and causes it to surface.  Currently, the most common stressor that causes diabetes to surface is obesity:  having too much body fat places an enormous stress on all the systems of the body.  Emotional stress can also trigger diabetes:  death of a loved one, financial stress, and overwork are the primary culprits here.  The bottom line is that it isn’t someone’s fault that they have diabetes … but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, so stop for a minute to think about what you can do to reduce the chances of triggering diabetes in your body.  Fortunately, these actions are very much in line with the traditional concept of a healthy lifestyle:  eat right, lose excess weight, increase your daily exercise, etc.  If you’re not sure, ask your doctor to order an A1C blood test or take advantage of the diabetes screening events that are popping up all over lately. The sooner you identify diabetes and get it under control, the more likely you will lead a (mostly) normal life.

So the next time you see someone steering away from that extra slice of bread or passing on dessert, it may be for a really good reason.  Diabetics are usually really good at hiding their diabetes … they try to be as ‘normal’ as they can.  Sometimes you won’t know unless they tell you … or if you know the signs to look for — because you’re a diabetic too, like I am.

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