Diabetes [Types, Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments]

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Diabetes [Types, Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments]

Do you, or someone you love, struggle with diabetes? The odds are good — the CDC estimates that a startling 9.4% of people in the United States have the condition. 

Though the causes may differ, any type of diabetes can lead to an overabundance of blood glucose (sugar in the blood). This high blood sugar can have widespread effects on many areas of health. 

There is hope for every diagnosis. With the right mindset and willingness to do the work, specialty testing and alternative therapies can shift the battle against diabetes in our favor.  While not every diabetes diagnosis is reversible, we can combat diabetes by understanding the causes, risk factors, and your best options — including food choices and exercise. 

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes Mellitus, the formal name for what we commonly call diabetes, can come in several forms. The two most prominent types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but other variations of the condition exist. 

Prediabetes and gestational diabetes may be reversed with proper care, while Type 1 and Type 2 are frequently thought of as chronic diseases. However, even type 2 diabetes, the most common type, may be reversed. For some people weight loss or dietary changes are often the first steps, but not everyone needs to lose weight to treat diabetes or get off medication. 

All forms of diabetes mellitus are, at the most basic level, issues with the insulin and metabolism. Insulin, the hormone that moves sugar into the body’s cells for storage or use, is either produced or used improperly in people with diabetes.

These insulin imbalances lead to hyperglycemia, or too much glucose in the blood. This chronically high blood sugar is what we know as diabetes. 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease. While it can occur at any time throughout life, it often appears early in childhood. In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system begins to attack the pancreas, an organ that produces insulin. When this occurs, the body cannot produce enough insulin for daily functioning. 

Patients with type 1 diabetes are dependent on artificial insulin due to their damaged pancreas’s inability to produce it. In other forms of diabetes, insulin injections or oral insulins are sometimes used to maintain a proper blood sugar level. 

However, type 1 diabetes management is more stringent, and these individuals must use insulin every day. Currently, there is no conclusive research on how to prevent this form of diabetes. Fortunately, treatment for type 1 has progressed considerably in the past few decades.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is perhaps the most widely known, as well as the most common type of diabetes. This type stems from a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle choices. In type 2 diabetes, the body is no longer able to process the insulin it’s making. This leads to extremely high blood sugar levels as blood glucose rises, because glucose not responding to the body’s insulin and is therefore unable to enter the cells.

Many factors can contribute to type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, genetics, and an inactive lifestyle. Even your environment — such as air quality, household toxins, chemicals in your water, and more can contribute to a diabetes diagnosis.  Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to dialysis, cardiovascular disease, stroke and even death. It’s imperative for individuals with type 2 diabetes to regulate insulin levels and make lifestyle changes to reverse their symptoms as early as possible.


Prediabetes is the precursor to diabetes, if left untreated. This term refers to blood sugar higher than usual, but not quite at the blood glucose levels needed for a diabetes diagnosis. Individuals with prediabetes may not experience all the concerning symptoms of diabetes. Still, lifestyle changes are necessary to deal with the diagnosis before type 2 diabetes occurs.

Prediabetes can be reversed by improving diet and activity patterns. However, without these changes, many people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes, especially those over 40 or battling obesity. 

A simple blood test at the doctor’s office can determine your blood sugar levels if you are concerned about prediabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a risk specific to pregnant women. Hormone fluctuations during pregnancy can interact with insulin production and cause weight gain. Gestational diabetes occurs when the placenta produces a specific set of hormones that can desensitize the pregnant woman’s cells to insulin.

Being overweight when pregnancy begins or gaining large amounts of weight early in pregnancy can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. Fortunately, for many women, gestational diabetes is a temporary condition. 

However, it’s not without consequence: children exposed to diabetes in the womb have a higher rate of childhood obesity.

Diabetes Insipidus

Diabetes insipidus occurs when the body, for any one of several reasons, isn’t able to regulate fluid intake and elimination. People with diabetes insipidus may experience extreme thirst, high fever, and severe dehydration. 

While it has a similar name, insipidus is actually not related to the other types of diabetes listed here. For this reason, I won’t cover it further in this article.

Juvenile Diabetes

In previous eras, type 1 diabetes was referred to as juvenile diabetes, due to its typical onset in early childhood. Today, we consider the term outdated. 

A different diabetes threat now hovers over our children and adolescents. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are continuously rising in American youth, according to the American Diabetes Association.

There are several contributing factors to the early onset of this condition. Chief among these is having a family member diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes exposure. Risk also increases in children that are overweight or have a sedentary lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes symptoms are easier to spot and typically present suddenly:

  • Weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood changes 

However, type 2 diabetes is often a slower buildup, and the signs are less severe. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Recurring infections
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Increased hunger and thirst 
  • Severe dry mouth
  • Tingling in the feet and hands

The more subtle gestational diabetes and prediabetes can be harder to spot. Since they don’t present most of the classic symptoms of diabetes, a blood test will be required to diagnose either of these conditions. 

If you are experiencing these symptoms or concerned about your diabetes risk, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider. I’d also highly recommend getting the perspective of an integrative functional practitioner to approach your symptoms holistically.

What causes diabetes?

As mentioned, most forms of diabetes are a hormonal issue that becomes a blood glucose imbalance. The only exception is type 1 diabetes, which still has a mysterious origin and is triggered by an autoimmune response. 

The pancreas produces insulin and pumps it into the blood, which allows sugar to enter our cells and lowers the glucose, or sugar, in our bloodstream. The less sugar in the bloodstream, the less insulin secreted.

Prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes are, in their simplest forms, a resistance to the insulin that the pancreas secretes. 

Many genetic and environmental factors can play into this insulin resistance. At the forefront are excess weight and a lifestyle with very little activity. Losing weight, changing one’s diet, and moving more can all be effective measures in treating these forms of the condition. These healthy lifestyle changes will be covered later in this article.

Diabetes Risk Factors

Diabetes is a culmination of many risk factors, both in our genes and in our environment. They may include the following:

  • Family history: For all types of diabetes, having a relative who’s been diagnosed increases your odds of developing the condition.
  • Weight: In gestational, type 2, and prediabetes, the more excess weight, the higher the risk of diabetes.
  • Low physical activity levels: The less you move, the higher your chances of developing insulin resistance, as well as cardiovascular disease. In fact, being active not only balances insulin levels, but protects from other effects of diabetes. These can include a higher risk of heart disease or heart attack.
  • High blood pressure: This condition is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, with up to 75% of adults with type 2 diabetes also having this health problem.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: In women, this condition in the reproductive system can be a warning sign of diabetes.
  • Heritage: It remains unclear why, but African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and those with Pacific Islander heritage are at a higher risk of diabetes.

Complications of diabetes can affect many areas, especially when the condition goes undiagnosed. These include diabetic neuropathy, which occurs when blood vessels are damaged by excess sugar in the blood. This creates numbness and tingling, and without treatment, can result in losing feeling in the affected areas. Kidney failure is another condition that can result from diabetes if left untreated.

How to Prevent Diabetes

The rate of diabetes is predicted to continue to rise over the next few decades. To reverse this trend, we must take preventative measures. While type 1 diabetes is not currently preventable, we can avoid many (or all!) cases of type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes by making healthy changes. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests activity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If that seems overwhelming, talk to your healthcare professionals about how to ease toward that goal.

Eating healthy foods, quitting smoking, and losing five to seven percent of your body weight can also lower your odds of a diabetes diagnosis. This healthy diet could include keeping an eye on carbs and fat, avoiding sugar, and trying water instead of sweetened beverages. For more information on diabetes prevention and how I can help you with this process, sign up for my webinar.

Diabetes Treatments

Type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin treatments, which will be needed for the rest of the patient’s life.

Traditionally recommended treatments for type 2 diabetes include weight loss, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and blood sugar monitoring. An individualized dietary and lifestyle plan is the primary way I help patients reverse this condition.

Depending on the case, diabetes medications or insulin may also be needed. Metformin is perhaps the most commonly prescribed diabetes medication, which lowers the glucose produced by the liver and improves insulin sensitivity.

Best Exercise & Diets for Diabetes

Frankly, the best exercise for diabetes is any exercise you can regularly commit to, as long as your doctor gives the okay. Try to get moving, whether walking or hiking, and try to commit to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. 

Add in some resistance or body weight work two to three times weekly as well, and don’t ever go more than two days without some activity. This will help create a balanced routine, and is proven to improve insulin sensitivity.

A diabetes-friendly diet will include a hearty amount of vegetables, especially leafy greens, less sugar, and carefully monitored carbs. Steer clear of fried foods, salty snacks, sweets, and sugary beverages. These can spike insulin levels and contribute to weight gain. 

I’d also recommend seeing a functional medicine doctor for a lifestyle plan that is custom made for you. That’s why I’m available for a FREE, Unlimited YOU Health Strategy Session for new patients seeking this kind of help. Click here for more information.

While it may be tempting to try a fad diet, this is rarely the answer. Functional Medicine is all about long-lasting, sustainable life change. Therefore, commit to what works for you as an individual, and look at your health as a bigger picture, not just a diagnosis. You are not your diagnosis. 

In Summary

  • Diabetes affects a great deal of Americans, and rates increase each year.
  • There are many types of diabetes diagnoses, and most are either treatable or reversible.
  • Risk factors can include weight, family history, ethnicity, high blood pressure, and more. Knowing your risk can help you form a preventative plan before the condition develops.
  • Making simple, healthier diet and lifestyle choices can help prevent or manage diabetes, and improve overall quality of life. 


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