Plan for happy, healthy holidays

by Karen Bowen

We will soon be enjoying the Christmas season with all its parties and holiday treats. Now is a good time to plan to control your eating habits for the holidays and to reduce your risk of ever developing diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases that interferes with how the body uses glucose (blood sugar). Blood sugar is not bad in itself. An appropriate amount of blood sugar is essential to good health, since it supplies energy to muscle, tissue and brain cells.

A healthy body can maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. When you eat, the pancreas secretes the appropriate amount of a hormone, insulin, into your bloodstream, which helps the glucose from your food enter cells to be used as fuel. Later, when bloodstream sugar levels drop, the pancreas adjusts and secretes less insulin.

Any unused, extra blood sugar gets stored in the liver as glycogen for future use. Later, if no more food has been eaten and blood sugar levels drop, the liver breaks down the stored glycogen into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream, helping maintain a consistent glucose level. Unfortunately, people with diabetes mellitus have difficulty maintaining a consistent, appropriate blood sugar level.

Diabetes mellitus is divided into three categories: pre-diabetes, which occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes, and Type 1 and Type 2 chronic diabetes.

The more common type, Type 2 diabetes, can develop at any age, but is more often seen in people over 40. The exact cause of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors affect your risk, and so does excessive body weight. Having a parent or sibling with Type 2 diabetes increases your risk. Obesity does too, since fatty tissue causes cells to become more resistant to insulin. Some other risk factors include: aging, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Since the cells of people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes resist the action of insulin, even though the pancreas does produce insulin, it cannot produce enough extra insulin to overcome this resistance. As a result, excessive sugar accumulates in the bloodstream.

However, with close attention to diet and activity, people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes can often manage their condition through diet, exercise and/or oral medications. Becoming more active helps control weight and improves blood sugar levels because increased physical activity makes cells more responsive to insulin.

On the other hand, Type 1 diabetes requires more carefully supervised medical treatment. Even though Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it typically appears during childhood or adolescence. The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known either – a combination of genetics and environment. A damaged immune system cells (auto-antibodies), or a sibling with Type 1 diabetes, or low vitamin D intake or exposure to a viral illness increases the risk.

With Type 1 diabetes, auto-antibodies attack and destroy the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin. Because these damaged cells secrete little or no insulin, the body cannot break down glucose as fuel for cells, causing sugar to build up in the bloodstream and energy levels to fall.

You may have pre-diabetes or diabetes, if you answer ‘yes’ regarding the following signs and symptoms. Do you feel unusually thirsty; feel extremely hungry; need to urinate frequently; lose weight unexplainably; feel tired; become irritable; have blurred vision; heal slowly; and/or experience recurring infections?

If you do, consult your doctor and follow medical recommendations. If pre-diabetic, control your blood sugar; reduce your alcohol intake and maintain a healthy blood pressure, a healthy weight, and a healthy cholesterol level. If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, monitor your sugar levels, count carbohydrates and take diabetes medications and/or insulin as prescribed.

Controlling your blood sugar levels will help you avoid diabetes’ many serious circulatory complications, including: cardiovascular disease, such as angina, heart attack, atherosclerosis, and stroke.

You could also avoid diabetic nerve damage. Diabetic nerve damage to the extremities can lead to numbness in the fingers and toes. Resultant, unnoticed and untreated cuts and blisters on the feet can even lead to amputations. Nerve damage to the digestive system can lead to nausea, vomiting, constipation and/or diarrhea.

Diabetes also interferes with blood flow. By impairing blood flow to the eye, diabetes may cause cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness. By affecting the tiny blood vessels in the kidney that filter the blood, diabetes may lead to kidney disease, dialysis and/or a kidney transplant.

The impaired health of diabetics even makes them more susceptible to bacterial and fungal skin infections, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

With this in mind, take care this Christmas; present yourself the gift of happy, healthy holidays.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at

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