7 Warning Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
We’ve all heard that diabetes is a major issue in the US, yet do you know what it really is? Very simply put, it’s a group of diseases that now includes prediabetes, gestational, type 1, type 2, and type 3 that result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels. The type of diabetes, the elevation of the blood sugar, and the length of time the levels have gone unchecked all impact where you are on the spectrum of this disease, from prediabetes at the low end to type 3 at the far end.
Currently, there are 30.3 million people in the US with diabetes.1 Add in the number of Americans the Centers for Disease Control believes are prediabetic, and the number jumps to more than 100 million people affected in the US alone. 100 million! This is serious. However, despite the daunting numbers, there is good news. There are steps you and your loved ones can take right now to halt and even reverse diabetes naturally. You can take the first step with this free training.
Let’s take a closer look at what diabetes is, the types, and the warning signs and symptoms of this widespread condition, so you can analyze your risk and take action now.
What is Diabetes?
Each type is a chronic condition that develops over time and has everything to do with how your body manufactures or processes insulin. To help you better understand diabetes, let me explain the insulin connection. Many people don’t realize that insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, a small organ behind your stomach. Insulin is the key that helps the glucose in your blood enter cells in your muscles, fat, and liver, where it’s used for energy to power your body.
As soon as you eat, your blood sugar levels, also called blood glucose levels, begin to rise. This stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin so that you can use the glucose. When everything is functioning optimally, insulin and another hormone called glucagon keep blood glucose levels balanced. They are neither too high (hyperglycemia) nor too low (hypoglycemia).
All forms of diabetes are characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. This can be because your pancreas is damaged and simply can’t make enough insulin to balance the sugar in your blood. It could also be because the insulin receptors in your body are not working properly. This is called “insulin resistance.” Regardless of why it happens, persistent high blood sugar is detrimental to your health.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin. They can’t easily take glucose from your blood. Excess weight gain, too much belly fat, a lack of exercise, smoking, and too little sleep can all cause your receptors to begin to fail.2 As a result, your pancreas makes more and more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. Over time, these overworked pancreas cells get worn out and just can’t keep up with the demand.
What Happens When Diabetes is Not Controlled?
Diabetes causes 1.6 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. The global rate of diabetes has almost doubled since 1980.3 If uncontrolled, diabetes damages blood vessels all over the body, and causes complications including lack of circulation in legs and feet. It doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke, and impacts the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. As you can see, it impacts virtually your entire body! It is worth your effort to assess your risk factors, adjust your diet and lifestyle, and avoid diabetes altogether. Let’s take a look at the types of diabetes in more detail and where the symptoms place you on the diabetes spectrum.
What are the Types of Diabetes?
This type, formerly called juvenile or insulin-resistant diabetes, is a condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin. It affects 1.25 million people in the US alone. This chronic condition, in the middle of the diabetes spectrum, is the result of the immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and it is usually diagnosed in childhood or early teen years.4
Type 1 diabetes is not at all associated with being overweight like type 2 diabetes often is. Rather this type of diabetes has a hereditary component, and can be caused by autoimmunity. Like all autoimmune diseases, diet and environment have a huge impact on the condition. Leaky gut is also a path to autoimmunity. It’s also worth noting that the damage to the pancreas can even be the result of a type of virus called enteroviruses, such as congenital rubella syndrome.5 Recent research suggests that your body may be able to regain its ability to produce insulin.6
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body resists insulin or it doesn’t make enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. There are 24 million cases of people with type 2 diabetes in the US.
Historically, type 2 diabetes has not been considered an autoimmune condition, yet new research points to autoimmunity impacting this condition. It tends to develop after age thirty, so it is often called “adult-onset” diabetes. However, more and more young people are being diagnosed due to the increase in childhood obesity.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight, having large amounts of belly fat, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. New research indicates that the insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes is the result of B cells (the cells that work by producing antibodies to fight antigens or “invaders”) and other immune cells attacking your body’s own tissue.7 This is also considered in the middle of the diabetes spectrum, with the ability to progress if symptoms are not controlled.
Type 3: Alzheimer’s
It has long been known that being overweight and having type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In fact, if you have type 2 diabetes, you have quadrupled your risk for Alzheimer’s. Globally, this disease that negatively affects the neurons in the brain impacts 40 million people. Furthermore, two out of three cases of Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia, are women.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that affects memory and thinking skills. It primarily occurs in those over 65. Early onset is very rare, yet can occur between the mid 30s and early 60s. It is the result of nerve cells getting tangled, called neurofibrillary tangles. Another factor is protein deposits called beta-amyloid plaques which build up in the brain. The disease originates in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, yet as neurons die, and the disease progresses, the brain tissue significantly shrinks. In advanced stages, brain function continues to decline dramatically.8 This is the far end of the diabetes spectrum.
Recent research shows that Alzheimer’s occurs when neurons in the brain become unable to respond to insulin, which is essential for basic tasks, including memory and learning. This is due to a process called glycation, which is caused by elevated blood sugar that is not metabolized by insulin. I will explain this process further in my next article on diabetes, but suffice it to say that high blood sugar “breaks down” all of your body, including your brain.9
Prediabetes is high blood sugar that is not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.
If your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, yet have not crossed the threshold to warrant a diabetes diagnosis, you are considered prediabetic. 84 million American adults — more than one out of three — have prediabetes. Of those with prediabetes, 90% don’t even know they have it.
And although you may not know it, the long-term damage to your kidneys, blood vessels, and heart may already be starting. Prediabetes, considered the beginning of the diabetes spectrum, is a warning sign that you need to act now to preserve your health. Without appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, people with prediabetes tend to progress to type 2 diabetes within five years.10,11
As its name suggests, this form of diabetes occurs only during gestation, or pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes not only urinate frequently (that’s pretty typical during pregnancy!), they may also pass greater quantities of urine at those times.12
It is usually diagnosed between weeks 24 and 28 by an OB/GYN. Roughly 10% of women have gestational diabetes. In this condition, hormones from the placenta block insulin receptors, preventing a pregnant woman from balancing the high blood sugars common in pregnancy. It is usually controlled with diet, but in severe cases, insulin injections are necessary.
This condition is dangerous for the baby. Pregnant women with unmanaged gestational diabetes, or any of the other forms of diabetes, may have a baby that’s too large. This makes delivery more difficult and a C-section more likely. They are also at risk for preeclampsia — a dangerous condition marked by high blood pressure — and stillbirth. Gestational diabetes generally corrects itself naturally after your baby is born. However, women who have had this condition are at greater risk, 5% – 10% to be exact, of developing type 2 diabetes later in life,13 so it is also considered to be at the low end of the spectrum.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Types 1, 2, and 3 Diabetes
Let me be very clear: prediabetes and gestational are warning signs! These conditions place you on the low end of the spectrum and if you currently have either of them, or have had them in the past, you need to take action now. They are your body’s alarm system which, if ignored, could push you farther down the diabetes spectrum. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of diabetes:
- Hunger and fatigue
- Thirst and increased urination frequency
- Dry mouth and itchy skin
- Blurred vision
- Yeast infections
- Slow-healing cuts
- Pain/numbness in feet and in legs
If you have type 2 diabetes, you may also experience tingling, pain, or numbness in your hands and feet. Those with type 1 diabetes can experience weight loss even when they are eating more than normal.14 Symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear quickly and are often the reason for checking blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes comes on gradually, so make sure you get screened for diabetes if the following apply to you:
- BMI higher than 25 with additional risk factors
- Over 45
- Had gestational diabetes
- Have one or more of the symptoms listed above
People with Type 2 diabetes are 50–65% more likely to develop type 3 diabetes, than people with normal blood sugars. People at risk for type 3, or in the early stages of it will likely have one of these warning signs:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Difficulty planning and/or problem solving
- Confusion about dates, names, and/or places
- Visual problems, often first apparent while driving
- Forgetting common words or losing the train of thought in the middle of a sentence
- Misplacing objects
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Mood or personality changes15
While any of these changes can come with normal aging, or with other health problems including drug or alcohol abuse, if these symptoms persist, a blood screening is in order.
My next article in this three-part series will deal with how to check your own blood testing and how to get to the root cause to reverse the symptoms of diabetes naturally. In the meantime, check out this free training that can get you started on your journey to optimal health.