Millions of people across the globe are living with diabetes, a chronic disease in which sugar levels in the blood are high. The side effects of diabetes can be serious, and some people might become very sick even before they are diagnosed, while others may need to make drastic lifestyle changes upon diagnosis in order to avoid more dire consequences, including death.
Though diabetes does not discriminate based on race or gender, women should know that certain things can elevate their risks. Birth control pills, for example, can increase a woman's blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Elevated blood sugar levels are a symptom of diabetes or prediabetes, a condition when blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to indicate diabetes. Prediabetes can eventually develop into type 2 diabetes, and recent studies have shown that prediabetes increases a person's risk of heart disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, women going through menopause may also have elevated blood sugar levels thanks to hormonal changes.
So what are women concerned about diabetes to do? Though there's no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, which is most often diagnosed in children, teens or young adults, women can take steps to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.
* Increase your lean muscle mass. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that increasing muscle mass can reduce people's risk of developing prediabetes. This is significant for women who may avoid lifting weights in favor of cardiovascular equipment like the treadmill or elliptical machine. Though cardiovascular exercise can burn glucose as well, it's still important to build lean muscle by including some strength and resistance training in a workout regimen.
* Don't carry extra weight. According to a 2001 study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, overweight people are 20 to 40 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people with healthy weights. If you are carrying extra weight, a combination of diet and exercise should help you shed pounds and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes as a result.
* Embrace whole grains. In a separate study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, whole grains were found to protect women against diabetes. Women who ate two to three servings of whole grains per day were 30 percent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes than women who rarely ate whole grains. Whole grains should be consumed in place of refined carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar levels to swing rapidly. Carbohydrates are refined to increase the shelf life of certain products and improve taste. During the refining process, nutrients needed to utilize the sugar are removed. Foods that contain refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rice and pretzels. And as noted by the United States Department of Agriculture, it's safe to assume grain products are made with refined grains unless the packaging notes they are made with whole grains or whole wheat.
* Get a good night's sleep. People who fail to consistently get a good night's sleep may be increasing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes because a lack of sleep can make them more resistant to insulin. A 2012 study from researchers at the University of Chicago published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that sleep deprivation hinders the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin. The fat cells of study participants after they were deprived of sleep needed nearly three times as much insulin to regulate blood sugar as the cells needed on a typical night's rest. That dogged resistance to insulin over time can allow sugar and cholesterol to accumulate in the blood, increasing a person's risk of diabetes and heart disease as a result. Though the National Sleep Foundation admits sleep needs vary depending on a person's age and those needs are impacted by an individual's health and lifestyle, many experts agree adults need somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Diabetes is a potentially deadly disease that can negatively impact a woman's life in a variety of ways. But there are many methods for proactive women to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes so they can live fuller, healthier and happier lives.