Would you give up your eyesight for a candy bar? How about a kidney for a piece of cake? Most people would laugh at the thought of someone saying yes to those deals. But if you struggle to manage your diabetes, then your nutrition and lifestyle choices could be making a serious, detrimental impact on your health. Yes, it could be that serious.
With diabetes, blood vessels across the body are slowly damaged by uncontrolled blood sugar levels. When the blood vessels connecting to the retina in your eye are damaged, they may leak or bleed and the result is a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Your eyes will attempt to form new vessels, but these are weak and ineffective, leading to further vision loss.
In fact, diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74, and over half of the diabetic population will eventually develop this condition (National Eye Institute). You may be at high risk for diabetic retinopathy if you have uncontrolled blood sugar levels along with high blood pressure, kidney disease, high cholesterol, and/or if you smoke.
Your kidneys are also susceptible to blood vessel damage which leads to full kidney failure in 10-40% of adults with type 2 diabetes (Kidney.org). Since your kidneys play a vital role in filtering out waste and clearing the body of excess fluid, something must replace this function. At first, this means a strict renal diabetic diet, but as the kidneys fail, dialysis or transplantation become necessary.
Patients who are warned about declining kidney function may think they have plenty of time to make changes. But often, progressive kidney failure comes on quickly and any visit to your doctor could result in a screening that says you need to go on dialysis immediately. Your lifestyle can change in an instant!
Dialysis can greatly affect your ability to participate in normal activities. With treatments needed as frequently as every three days and lasting for three to five hours each, precious time is stolen from you. Your ability to travel away from a dialysis unit is limited as well. In addition, life expectancy severely declines for patients receiving dialysis.
Many people think a kidney transplant is an easy solution nowadays, but the requirements to be on a transplant list can be stringent. Tight glucose control as well as a healthy BMI are often mandatory. The average wait for a kidney can be as long as five years and often a patient has expired before they get that phone call.
This doesn’t have to happen to you! A nutritious diet along with even moderate exercise (even if it’s just walking) and medications such as insulin can help control blood glucose levels and reduce damage to the body’s blood vessels. It is also important to manage high blood pressure and quit smoking, too.
Taking control of your diabetes today can lessen your risk of diabetic retinopathy and end-stage kidney failure. Talk with your healthcare provider regularly about your diabetes management and ask for a referral to an endocrinologist if results are not improving. You can do this with some help, but it all starts with a willingness to accept your diabetes and learn how to manage it before it gets the best of you.
Dr. Jane Graebner is founder of the Foot and Ankle Wellness Center in Delaware. She is a practicing podiatrist of 40 years and president of the Delaware County Diabetes Association.