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November is American Diabetes Month: Are You At Risk?

Tracey Gold Bennett | 11/9/2011, 12:19 p.m.
Halle Berry - Courtesy photo

What do Kendall Simmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry and former Miss America Vanessa Williams have in common with 26 million Americans? They're all diabetics.

Every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes in the United States. November is traditionally a month associated with Thanksgiving feasts, however, it is important also to recognize that November is National Diabetes Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. The food we eat is turned into glucose or sugar and our bodies use glucose for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin that helps glucose enter into the cells of our body. If a person has diabetes, their body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should. The result: Sugar builds up in the blood which can lead to serious health complications that include heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. The latest CDC reports indicate that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.

Kendall SimmonsThere are three common types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body makes no insulin or so little insulin that the body cannot change blood sugar into energy.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body makes too little insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes to change blood sugar into energy.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is first diagnosed in a pregnant woman. This type of diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy, but if it does not, it becomes Type 2 diabetes.

Approximately 79 million people are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and African-Americans are particularly vulnerable, according to the CDC.

"African-Americans are affected disproportionately for a number of reasons, including genetics, lifestyle, diet, and lack of exercise," said Melody Poindexter, program director for the District of Columbia's American Diabetes Association. "We encourage testing of A1C [test that measures average blood glucose control] on a regular basis."

Another sobering statistic from the CDC shows that one in three American adults will have diabetes by 2050. But even if someone has a family history or predisposition to diabetes, the good news is there are relatively simple things that can be done to prevent the onset of the disease.

"Exercising as little as three minutes a day can help to prevent the disease," said Poindexter. She also said that a healthy diet and making the right nutritional choices are very important.

Dietary food tips for preventing diabetes from the American Diabetes Association include eating lots of vegetables and fruits. Non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans are particularly beneficial, and instead of processed grain products, choose whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Incorporating legumes, dried beans and lentils into meals also can be beneficial.

Where proteins are concerned, choose lean cuts of meat and fresh fish, and non-fat dairy is preferable over full fat versions of cheese, milk and yogurt.

People who think they may be at risk for diabetes are urged to see a doctor. Some of the symptoms of diabetes include: lethargy; frequent urination; excessive thirst; unexplained weight loss; extreme hunger; and tingling or numbness in hands or feet.

More information on Diabetes can be found online: www.diabetes.org