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The Not So Sweet Relationship Between Sugar and Diabetes

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Omar P. Haqqani, MD
Midland Daily News
October 23, 2016

Blurred vision, fatigue, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, excessive thirst and urination, and non-healing wounds – these are the symptoms of diabetes. When not properly managed, unchecked diabetes can lead to devastating consequences on your health, including loss of a limb – something I’ve seen all too often as a physician.

To say that diabetes is an epidemic is not an understatement. Upwards of 30 million Americans currently live with diabetes and nearly 90 million have prediabetes – their blood sugar is not normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetic. This means over one-third of Americans either have diabetes or are at serious risk of developing it.

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Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, and people with diabetes develop heart disease at twice the rate as people without diabetes. Even more daunting is the fact that diabetes causes more deaths annually than breast cancer and leukemia combined.

There are two major types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body stops producing insulin. This is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps your cells convert glucose – a kind of sugar –  into energy.

People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive. This typically develops in children or young adults, but can occur at any age.

Type 2 diabetes is more common and results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin properly, commonly known as insulin resistance. This tends to develop in people who are over 40, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes.

Some people with type 2 diabetes need to take insulin shots, some take pills called "oral agents" that help their bodies use the insulin it is producing better, and some people can manage the disease through appropriate diet and adequate physical activity.

When diabetes is not properly managed, high blood sugar occurs.

Over time, high blood sugar can damage your heart, kidney, and blood vessels, as well as cause blurred vision and damage to nerve endings causing lack of sensation – this often leads to non-healing wounds and possible loss of limb.

A combination of things can cause diabetes, including family history, weight gain, and a diet high in sugar.

You can’t help your family history, but you can take measures to manage your weight and monitor your sugar intake.

A healthy, well-balanced diet will always contain natural sugars, such as the fructose in fruits and the lactose in milk. However, it’s the amount of added sugars found in the typical diet that is problematic.

Beyond the sucrose found in table sugar, sugars are found in high concentrate in foods such as sodas, cereals, juices, and candy. Even some foods that are deemed healthy have high amounts of sugar, including fruit yogurt, canned soups, salad dressing, and granola bars.

You are likely aware of the negative reputation high fructose corn syrup has garnered over the past few decades, however, research has shown that added sweeteners of all kinds affect the body similarly.

Bottom line, both fructose and glucose can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity and higher blood sugar levels when consistently consumed in amounts above the FDA’s daily recommended allowance.

For adults, FDA guidelines recommend capping added sugar at 12.5 teaspoons (50 grams) per day.

To put this into perspective, the average candy bar has around 25 grams of sugar, or half of your recommended daily allowance for added sugar.

It’s wise to check the nutritional label on your food packaging for sugar content to track your daily sugar intake.

You are at risk of diabetes if you are over 40-years-old, overweight, or have a family history of diabetes, prediabetes, heart or vascular disease, high blood pressure (even if it’s under control), low HDL (good) cholesterol, or high triglycerides.

If you are at risk, diabetes can be prevented with moderate weight loss (10–15 pounds), 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) daily, and monitoring your added daily sugar intake.

If you have diabetes, good control of the disease significantly reduces your risk of developing complications such as non-healing wounds and possible loss of limb. You should partner with your healthcare provider to ensure you have a plan in place to effectively manage your diabetes.

There is certainly much more to avoiding diabetes onset or managing the disease than simply managing your sugar intake, however, this is an essential component in managing your risks and overall health.

Dr. Omar P. Haqqani, MD is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.

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