Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Tackling Diabetes in the Asian American Community

November is National Diabetes Month! Diabetes is a prevalent health concern for Asian Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death for this group. Among Asian Americans, Asian Indians have the highest rates of diabetes. Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean Americans also have higher diabetes rates than non-Hispanic whites despite having lower body weight. Research shows that genetics and the Western lifestyle have led to the high risk of diabetes in Asian Americans. 

Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar (also known as glucose) levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat turns into glucose for our bodies to use as energy. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, releases a hormone called insulin into our blood. Insulin helps glucose enter cells in our bodies. If our bodies do not make enough insulin, or the insulin does not work the way it should, glucose stays in the blood and does not reach the cells. Too much glucose in the blood can have negative health consequences such as heart disease, kidney disease, as well as foot, skin, or eye complications. 

According to the CDC, signs and symptoms for diabetes may include: 
• Frequent urination 
• Excessive thirst 
• Unexplained weight loss 
• Extreme hunger 
• Sudden vision changes 
• Tingling or numbness in hands or feet 
• Feeling very tired much of the time 
• Very dry skin • Sores that are slow to heal 
• More infections than usual 

Some people with diabetes do not have any of these signs or symptoms. The only way to know if someone has diabetes is to have his/her doctor do a blood test. 

The three main types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. Diabetes can be developed at any age and affects both men and women. 
• Type 1 – In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, which are the only cells in the body that make insulin. 
• Type 2 – Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition where cells do not use insulin properly. Gradually, the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin. 
• Gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes results in glucose intolerance diagnosed during pregnancy. If not treated, it can cause problems for mothers and babies. 

Researchers are unsure how exactly to prevent Type 1 diabetes since it is mainly caused by genetics, but it is still important to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. When it comes to Type 2 diabetes, prevention is critical. It is especially important to make diabetes prevention a priority if a person is at increased risk of diabetes, for example, if a person is overweight or has a family history of the disease. Making a few simple changes in a person’s lifestyle may help him/her avoid serious health complications, such as nerve, kidney, and heart damage. Preventing or delaying Type 2 diabetes starts with eating healthier foods and being more physically active. It is recommended to lose a small amount of weight (5% to 7% of total body weight) through a well-balanced diet and 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. 

The CDC recommends that people age 45 and older get tested for diabetes. Those over age 45 with normal blood glucose levels, should continue to get tested every three years. Those under age 45, but at high risk of developing diabetes, should be tested more frequently. Some risk factors include obesity, family history of diabetes, hypertension, and diagnosis of gestational diabetes. 

If you are a Montgomery County resident, limited-income, and uninsured, you can contact Montgomery Cares Clinics to learn more about diabetes screenings. Please call Montgomery County’s non-emergency information line, MC311, at 240-777-0311. You can also contact the Asian American Health Initiative for more information at 240-777-4517 or info@AAHIinfo.org.

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