Vail Daily health feature: The best ways to steer clear of high blood sugar
Special to the Daily
Editor’s note: This story first ran in Vail Health magazine.
Healthy and active as most of us are in the Vail Valley, we rarely worry about the amount of sugar we’re consuming. Chug a Mountain Dew for a little pick-me-up? We figure we’ll burn it off after a few powder turns.
If we’re bonking or feeling exhausted, we often think it’s because we went hard on the mountain. Most of us don’t think it could have something to do with our overall blood sugar, and we certainly don’t consider diabetes, especially if we watch what we eat and exercise regularly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2014 national diabetes statistics, 9.3 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes — 29.1 million people — more than a quarter of whom are not yet diagnosed.
The thing is, even the thin, active and young can contract type 1 diabetes. If you are someone who regularly experiences a “sugar crash” after the rare splurge of soda or candy, it could be a sign that you’re prediabetic.
“Individuals with an increased risk of developing diabetes are more susceptible to the fall in blood glucose [sugar] after consuming a high glycemic index food,” said endocrinologist Dr. Rebecca Adochio, who recently joined the Vail Valley Medical Center staff. “Our bodies work hard to maintain normal blood glucose levels, but when challenged by a rapid increase in sugar into the blood stream, the result can be an increase in the blood glucose level, particularly in those with prediabetes. Eventually, as the body is able to bring the glucose level down, it can result in a ‘crash,’ causing a drop in energy or even hypoglycemic — low blood glucose — symptoms such as nausea, shakes, confusion and extreme fatigue.”
Sometimes people with diabetes start to lose weight, have regular bouts of fatigue and blurry vision, often feel thirsty and urinate frequently. Many times, however, a person can develop diabetes with no signs or symptoms at all.
“Unfortunately, early development of type 2 diabetes can go unnoticed for many years as our bodies can start to adapt to high glucose levels in the body. This is why diabetes is often referred to as ‘the silent killer,’” Adochio said, adding that if untreated, long-term effects of diabetes include kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and loss of limbs. If diabetes runs in your family, Dr. Adochio recommends regular blood screenings.
THE NEW DOC IN TOWN
Vail’s new endocrinologist completed her fellowship training in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and spent the last five years in Oklahoma City serving as a clinical endocrinologist at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. There, the population was far less active than that of Colorado, and she treated many cases of type 2 diabetes, most of which were brought on by obesity. For heavy people, a drastic change in diet and activity isn’t always realistic, but even shedding a few pounds can make a big difference.
“Weight control is essential in preventing type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Adochio said. “Even a 5-pound reduction in someone who is overweight can lead to significant metabolic benefits.”
A healthy diet is also key, but when it comes to sugar, sometimes we eat too much of it without even knowing. Sugar is hidden in unlikely places, even in foods we think are healthy.
SUGAR IN DISGUISE
“Common culprits for hidden or ‘added’ sugars include yogurt, bread, peanut butter, applesauce, marinades, sauces and cereals,” Dr. Adochio said.
While many of these foods are some of the first any nutritionist would recommend for examples of a healthy diet, some are definitely better than others, and it’s good to get into the habit of reading labels, paying particular attention to the amount of sugars in a product. You’ll find the numbers for the same type of food can be drastically different.
“If you are unable to find a product without added sugar there are still other options. For example, yogurt is a staple in our family, but I have to work hard to find a flavored yogurt that has a minimal amount of added sugar. An alternative is to buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit or a small serving of fruit preserves in order to minimize the sugar content,” Dr. Adochio said. “We choose peanut butter that is natural or unsweetened, as well as unsweetened applesauce. Bread is a large source of carbohydrates already, so adding sweetener just increases the sugar load to our body. Buying bread that is high in fiber and protein, while low in added sugar can be a challenge, but there are good products available.”
If you’re a big diet drink fan, thinking that the zero calories and zero sugar in what you’re guzzling are doing you good, think again. Dr. Adochio said there are studies showing that drinking sweet beverages, even those comprised of artificial sweeteners, leads to eating more calories for the next meal. There are few benefits to drinking sweet beverages of any sort — even natural juice. Whole fruits and vegetables are much better choices.
WHEN TO SEE A SPECIALIST
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which can often be prevented, there are many endocrine-related conditions like type 1 diabetes, and thyroid, adrenal and pituitary gland disorders that can cause fatigue, weight gain, weight loss, depression and a host of other symptoms and serious health conditions. None of these has anything to do with diet or exercise, and the young, fit and active can fall victim, too.
“Most endocrine disorders can affect all populations regardless of lifestyle,” Adochio said, adding that such disorders can be controlled by medication, but must be carefully assessed, maintained and monitored.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a hormonal disorder by your primary care doctor, gynecologist or other doctor, you should consider seeing an endocrinologist for a second opinion and/or treatment.
“As a specialist, I think our greatest offering is our time — time to listen to the individual needs of our patients and time to focus on a disease process in order to optimize treatment plans and provide the necessary patient education,” said Adochio.