Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Causes and Treatments

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Causes and Treatments

Testing blook sugar

Diabetes — a condition that affects more than one in 10 Americans — often leads to additional health problems called complications. One of the most common diabetes complications is peripheral neuropathy. People with this condition have nerve damage that leads to pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the hands and feet. About one in two people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy.

What Causes Neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a disease of the nerves. The body uses nerves to communicate with the rest of the body. Some nerves send signals from the brain to other tissues, and then other nerves send signals back to the brain. This process helps the brain learn about feelings and sensations, tell muscles when and how to move, and control different processes in the body such as breathing and the heartbeat.

In people with diabetes, the body has a hard time controlling levels of sugar and fat in the blood. High blood sugar levels and high fat levels can directly damage the nerves and also harm the blood vessels that keep the nerves healthy. In people with neuropathy, the brain has a harder time receiving information from and sending signals to certain parts of the body.

Neuropathy can also be caused by other conditions. Certain genetic disorders that are passed down within families can lead to nerve damage. Other disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, inflammatory conditions, or cancer may also lead to neuropathy. Environmental or lifestyle-related causes of neuropathy can include heavy drinking, not getting enough of certain vitamins or minerals, exposure to toxic substances, or infections.

Types of Neuropathy

Damage to different types of nerves can lead to different forms of neuropathy. These include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: damage to the nerves in the feet or hands
  • Autonomic neuropathy: damage to the nerves that control body functions like digestion, blood pressure, sweating, vision, urination, and body temperature
  • Focal neuropathies: problems with a single nerve in the wrist, leg, head, or other location; includes carpal tunnel syndrome and eye problems
  • Proximal neuropathy: damage that affects nerves in the thigh, hip, or buttock, usually just on one side of the body

People with diabetes can develop any of these neuropathies. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of nerve damage.

Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms

man holding arm
Peripheral neuropathy symptoms affect the feet, ankles, lower legs, hands, or arms. People with this condition may feel pain, burning, weakness, numbness, or “pins and needles” sensations. The sense of touch may also be affected in these areas. For example, people with peripheral neuropathy may not notice right away when their hand is touching something hot, or they may not realize that their shoes are too tight.

These symptoms can develop and worsen slowly over time, or they can appear quickly. They may be more severe at night than they are during the day.

Long-Term Effects of Peripheral Neuropathy

Over time, people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy may experience worsening problems with their feet. When it is harder for the nerves in the feet to pick up on different sensations, a person may be less likely to notice pain or discomfort. Some people with diabetes develop sores, blisters, or infections on their feet, and may not notice these issues right away.

Diabetes interferes with the body’s healing processes by preventing enough blood from flowing to injured tissues. This means that it is harder for the body to repair even minor injuries. Some people with diabetes who develop severe foot problems may need to have a toe or foot amputated.

When feet and leg problems pile up, it may become harder to walk. Some of those with neuropathy may have a hard time balancing properly. This can lead to falls, which puts a person at risk for breaking bones. A person’s sense of movement may also be affected. Peripheral neuropathy may also cause a lot of pain, especially while walking.

Diabetics with peripheral neuropathy are likely to need more frequent visits to their doctor’s office or the hospital. They may also have a hard time working because of pain or difficulties getting around. All of these issues can in turn lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression.

Diagnosing Peripheral Neuropathy

woman holding lower back
If you are experiencing signs of peripheral neuropathy, talk to your doctor. You will likely need to have a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your family and personal health history.

Blood tests are often a part of physical exams. These tests can identify various health problems that can cause neuropathy or be found in people with diabetes. Blood tests may be used to detect:

  • Abnormal blood cell levels
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Low levels of certain vitamins or minerals

During the physical exam, your doctor may perform several tests to see whether you are able to detect sensations with the nerves in your feet. One possible test is a monofilament test, in which the doctor touches your feet with a thin strand of nylon to see if you can feel it. Another test involves touching the feet with a tuning fork to see if the nerves in your feet can sense vibrations.

Doctors can directly measure how well your nerves and muscles are working with other tests. They may use nerve conduction velocity tests (NCV) to see how fast your nerves are able to send out signals. An electromyogram (EMG) measures electricity in the muscles, which helps doctors understand how fast your muscles respond to signals from the nerves.

Other tests may include checking your balance, seeing how well you walk, or testing the blood flow in your feet and toes.

Can Peripheral Neuropathy Be Prevented?

pricking finger

One of the most important ways people can reduce their risk of neuropathy is by treating their diabetes. Keeping blood sugar levels under control helps prevent the nerves from becoming damaged. Work with your doctor to develop a diabetes treatment plan that works for you.

Certain risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing diabetic peripheral neuropathy. These include:

  • Being older
  • Having diabetes for a long period of time
  • Having certain genes
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Heavy drinking
  • Being overweight
  • Having other health problems such as high cholesterol levels or hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Being diagnosed with other conditions, including kidney disease

You can’t control some peripheral neuropathy risk factors like age or genetics. However, you can reduce your risk of nerve damage by focusing on certain lifestyle changes. Getting more exercise, eating a balanced diet (especially superfoods for diabetics), quitting smoking, and limiting how much you drink may help you avoid peripheral neuropathy. Additionally, use lifestyle changes or medication to prevent or treat high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

Peripheral Neuropathy Treatments

If you are suffering from neuropathy pain, the first step is talking to your doctor, who can help you come up with a treatment plan. Make sure to ask about ways to both treat the neuropathy as well as keep your diabetes under control to prevent further damage.

Medications for Peripheral Neuropathy

Several different types of drugs can help manage peripheral neuropathy pain. However, traditional painkillers may not always be the best option. In particular, over-the-counter pain medications often do not work for neuropathic pain. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen as well as other drugs like acetaminophen.

Instead of utilizing traditional pain relievers, physicians sometimes recommend a medication for nerve pain that is in the “antidepressant” category of medicine because of the mechanism of action of this medication. These medications don’t heal nerve damage, but they can reduce neuropathy symptoms. Possible options may include:

  • Pamelor (nortriptyline)
  • Norpramin (desipramine)
  • Tofranil (imipramine)
  • Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)
  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Celexa (citalopram)

Anti-seizure medications may be another option for treating peripheral neuropathy pain. These drugs may include Neurontin (gabapentin) or Lyrica (pregabalin). Finally, topical medications that are applied directly to the skin may help. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a cream, spray, or patch that can numb pain.

These medications are not always equally effective for everyone. If you try one medication and it doesn’t seem to be helping, notify your doctor — another drug may work better for you.

When blood sugar levels rise, some of these medications may not work as well to treat neuropathy symptoms. Following your diabetes treatment plan is important when trying to treat nerve pain and treating the root cause of the problem is the goal in working to reduce neuropathy and neuropathic pain.

Supplements for Neuropathy

Several studies have found that alpha-lipoic acid can work well to treat neuropathy symptoms. This molecule is an antioxidant that is made by the body. Alpha-lipoic acid treatments are especially effective when they are given intravenously, through an IV needle that goes directly into a vein.

This antioxidant is also available as an over-the-counter supplement. In this form, alpha-lipoic acid may still help with symptoms, but it is not usually as effective as IV treatments.

Physical Therapy

People with diabetic neuropathy may want to consider going to physical therapy (PT). This type of treatment can help you build strength and improve your balance. During PT, you will work with a physical therapist to perform different exercises that specifically address your needs.

Caring For Your Feet


Taking good care of your feet can help prevent minor problems from getting worse. Doctors recommend that people with peripheral neuropathy check their feet every day. If you notice a small issue right away and seek treatment, you have a better chance of healing and avoiding infection. Try looking for:

  • Cuts, sores, or areas where the skin is broken
  • Blisters
  • Calluses (areas of thicker skin)
  • Plantar warts (a hard, rough growth on the surface of the skin)
  • Rashes such as athlete’s foot
  • Ingrown toenails (a condition in which the edge of a toenail grows into the flesh, or the surrounding skin starts growing over the nail)

Try to get into the habit of washing your feet each day. Make sure the water that you use isn’t too hot. If you have a hard time sensing temperature, use a thermometer to measure the water before washing. Don’t use water above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Once you are done, dry your feet thoroughly. Dust your feet with baby powder or cornstarch to help keep your skin dry.

Another way to protect your feet is always wearing socks and shoes. Socks can help keep your feet dry, while shoes protect your feet from injury. Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight, and break in new shoes by wearing them for short periods of time when you first get them. Before putting on your shoes, check that there are no small stones or other objects inside that could hurt your feet.

Certain types of footwear can also help prevent ulcers. Ask your doctor about whether insoles, shoes, or orthotics may help support your feet.

yearly foot exam is also a good idea for people with peripheral neuropathy. During this visit, your doctor can make sure your feet are in good health. More frequent exams may be needed for people who have current or past foot problems. You may be able to go to your primary care provider for this exam, or your doctor may recommend that you see a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in treating feet).

Controlling Diabetes

Managing your blood sugar levels is a very important part of treating and controlling nerve damage. Make sure to check your blood sugar regularly. Choose nutritious foods that won’t lead to large blood sugar spikes, and get regular physical activity. Additionally, use any medications as directed by your doctor.

If you don’t think that you are controlling your blood sugar levels well enough, talk to your health care team. Your doctor may be able to help you better understand which treatments or lifestyle changes will help prevent complications from diabetes. A certified nutritionist or registered dietician can also help you come up with a better eating plan.


It is important to take peripheral neuropathy seriously, since symptoms can get worse and may cause additional problems over time. Effectively treating your diabetes can help you avoid nerve damage or prevent existing symptoms from worsening. Medications can help relieve symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, including pain. Follow the directions of your health care team when it comes to making necessary lifestyle changes and taking care of your feet. If you are having nerve pain and would like to discuss it further, please make an appointment. 

Superfoods Part 4: Essential Superfoods for Diabetics and Pre-Diabetics

Superfoods Part 4: Essential Superfoods for Diabetics and Pre-Diabetics

Superfoods for prediabetes and diabetes
This article is part of my series on superfoods. Learn more about superfoods, superfoods for weight loss, and critical superfoods for a healthy heart. Stay tuned for more to come in this series.

Diabetes occurs when the body can’t process carbohydrates and sugars as well as it should. The foods that we eat can play a big role in preventing and managing this condition. Turning to superfoods is a great, nutritious way to get your metabolism working more efficiently.

Is Diabetes Something You Need to Be Concerned About?

The older you get, the higher your risk for developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, so it’s important to learn more about how to protect your health and wellness as you age.

There are a few different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a condition that you are usually diagnosed with when you are younger, although this is changing as there are many adults who have a new diagnosis of this type of diabetes. People with this disease cannot make any insulin, a hormone that helps the body use sugar as fuel. People with type 2 diabetes may produce some insulin, but their body does not use the insulin hormone very well. Additionally, gestational diabetes is a third form of this disease that may be diagnosed when a person is pregnant. All of these forms of diabetes cause a person to have high levels of blood sugar, which can damage the body and lead to further health problems down the road.

It’s also important to be aware of a condition of elevated blood sugar that does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of “diabetes.” This condition is sometimes called “prediabetes”. People with this condition have slightly elevated blood sugar levels, and have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. While one out of every three Americans has “prediabetes”, the vast majority of them don’t know it! For this reason and many other reasons, it is very important to get your blood sugar checked at regular physical exams so that you have a better idea of whether you may be at risk and to get the information you need to stay healthy.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

If you have any of the following factors, your risk of getting type 2 diabetes may be higher:

  • You have prediabetes
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You are at least 45 years old
  • You have a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • You don’t get very much exercise
  • You are Black, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, or Alaska Native

Controlling Your Diabetes Risk

If you want to reduce your chances of being diagnosed with diabetes, you can make some lifestyle changes. Getting more physical activity and losing extra weight is a great place to start. Additionally, if you eat a more nutritious diet, you can better control your blood sugar levels. This can help you prevent or manage diabetes.

Superfoods are a great way to eat better. There isn’t one official definition that says which foods count as “superfoods,” but in general this label is given to foods that are jam-packed with nutrients that your body needs in order to stay healthy. Many superfoods can help keep your body’s blood sugar levels in a more normal range.

Superfoods for Better Blood Sugar Levels

Superfoods for Diabetes
The foods you eat have a big effect on how stable your blood sugar levels are. Certain food choices are better than others when it comes to avoiding high blood sugar spikes or low blood sugar crashes.

Why Is Controlling Blood Sugar Levels Important?

When we eat food, the body breaks down carbohydrates into smaller sugar molecules, which enter the bloodstream. For most people, the pancreas makes insulin and sends it around the body. Insulin then helps the cells in different organs absorb sugar from the blood and convert it into energy. After a meal, blood sugar levels rise temporarily and then eventually go back to normal as sugar is removed from the blood.

In people with diabetes, who don’t make or cannot use insulin, cells can’t absorb sugar. These sugar molecules stay in the blood for longer periods of time, and often reach high levels. Additionally, diabetes makes a person more likely to have blood sugar levels that get too low if they miss a meal, take too much medication, or exercise a lot.

The Glycemic Index

Overall, the goal is to keep blood levels stable. You can do this by paying attention to the glycemic index of the carbohydrates that you eat.

Foods that contain carbohydrates include grains (bread, cereal, pasta, rice), fruits and fruit juices, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas), dairy products, foods with fiber (beans and lentils), sugary desserts and snacks, and sugary drinks.

The glycemic index (GI) is a number that rates all carbs on a scale from 0 to 100. Low GI foods:

  • Take longer for the body to break down, and require your body to actually work harder to break down these types of foods
  • Cause your blood sugar to rise slowly and steadily
  • Give you longer-lasting energy
  • Make you feel full for a longer period of time

On the other hand, high GI foods:

  • Increase your blood sugar levels very quickly, and then rapidly drop those blood sugar levels back down to low levels
  • Make you crave more carbohydrate-rich foods once your blood sugar levels plunge
  • Make you more likely to overeat or to eat when you are not truly hungry

When people with diabetes eat mostly low GI foods, they have better control over their blood sugar levels. One of the reasons many superfoods are so good for you is because they have a low GI.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, as opposed to refined or processed grains, contain high levels of fiber. Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that has a low GI. Your body can’t completely break down fiber, so it doesn’t make your blood sugar levels increase as much. People who eat high levels of fiber have a lower chance of becoming diabetic. In particular, people who eat at least three servings of whole grains per day have a 20-30% lower chance of getting diabetes.

When people with diabetes eat low GI, whole grain foods on a regular basis, they also have lower levels of inflammation. This can help fight obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and help the body become more responsive to insulin.

Most whole-grain foods can be considered a superfood, not only because of their fiber content, but also because of their high levels of B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants. Examples of whole grains are:

  • Whole-wheat pasta, or baked goods like bread or crackers made with whole-wheat flour
  • Brown rice
  • Grains often served for breakfast, such as steel-cut oats, stone-ground grits, or amaranth
  • Grains that are often prepared as sides, such as quinoa, barley, millet, or bulgur
  • Popcorn

Low GI Superfood Fruits

Some superfood fruits have a low GI, while other potentially less healthy fruits have a higher GI. A fruit’s GI is primarily based on how much fiber the fruit contains. Some fruits have more fiber, and therefore, a lower GI.

Eating low GI fruit helps people with diabetes lower their blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Examples of low GI fruits are:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits
  • Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Nectarines

Berries may also provide diabetics with additional benefits. They contain antioxidants that have shown the ability to improve insulin and cholesterol levels, and are linked to a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.

To get the maximum amount of fiber from your fruits, try strategies like:

  • Eating whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juice. Juice has had most of the fiber removed, and often has added sugars, meaning that it has less nutrients and a higher GI.
  • Avoiding fruit products like canned fruits that contain added sugar.
  • Eating fruit with the skin on, if it’s edible.

The Power of Legumes

Legumes – beans, lentils, and peas – are superfoods that offer a ton of nutritional benefits. They also contain high levels of fiber, making them a good low GI food option. Other nutrients found in legumes include:

  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus

In one study of over 100 people with diabetes, those who ate at least one cup of legumes per day had lower blood sugar levels and a reduced chance of developing heart disease.

However, despite these health benefits, on any given day only about 8% of Americans say they eat legumes. Get more of these superfoods by adding black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, pinto beans, soybeans, and lentils to your meals.

Other Superfoods for Diabetics

Superfoods for Diabetes

In addition to eating more low GI foods, people with prediabetes or diabetes can make other dietary changes. There are many more nutritious superfoods that can be beneficial to people watching their blood sugar levels.

Fatty Fish

While many different types of seafood can be a part of a healthy diet, fish with a high fat content are typically the only ones to receive the “superfood” label. This is because these fish contain the highest levels of omega-3, a healthy form of fat.

Omega-3’s are great for the heart. This is especially good news for diabetics, who have a higher chance of heart disease and stroke. There is some evidence that omega-3’s may also help prevent other health conditions, including certain types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, although research has found conflicting results.

When diabetics eat fatty fish on a regular basis, their bodies can better control blood sugar levels. However, this result is not seen when people with diabetes or elevated blood sugar levels eat large amounts of lean, non-fatty fish.

Fatty superfood fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Sardines


This superfood is a great way to start your day. Eggs may help with weight loss, which is important for preventing and managing diabetes. Scientific studies have found that eggs can:

Eggs can also specifically help with diabetes. When diabetic folks eat two eggs per day, they tend to have lower cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin, and blood pressure levels. Replacing a carb-heavy breakfast with eggs may be a good way to improve the way your body processes food.

Leafy Greens

While these veggies do contain a small amount of carbohydrates, they are considered a low GI food and won’t significantly change blood sugar levels. Additionally, leafy green vegetables provide a lot of vitamin C, which is particularly important for people with diabetes.

Spinach, kale, chard, and other leafy greens also contain antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which can improve eye health. It’s important for people with diabetes to take care of their eyes, because they are more likely to have eye problems.

Yet another nutrient provided by leafy green superfoods is vitamin K. This key vitamin can help the body make better use of insulin, reduce inflammation, and decrease diabetes risk.

Tree Nuts

Tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans, have low levels of carbohydrates. They also contain some of the same nutrients as many of the other foods on this list, including protein, fiber, and omega-3’s.

Scientific research has found that tree nuts can help people with diabetes in several ways:

  • When nuts are eaten along with carbohydrates, the blood sugar doesn’t spike as much as when carbohydrates are eaten alone.
  • Some research has shown that nuts can decrease appetite and calm inflammation.
  • clinical trial found that eating a lot of almonds every day led to lower cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar levels.
  • When people with diabetes ate walnut oil every day in one study, they had better blood sugar levels.
  • A study of over 16,000 diabetics found that people who ate more tree nuts were less likely to have heart disease.


Eating this superfood may be a good way to stave off diabetes. Research has found that people who eat 80-125 grams of yogurt per day are 14% less likely to develop this health condition. In particular, dairy products with high levels of protein may be extra effective at preventing diabetes. Eating Greek yogurt gives you more protein per serving, and often contains less sugar, too.

Other fermented superfoods, including kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may also help prevent diabetes. These foods supply the body with healthy bacteria that can help improve the body’s metabolism.


People with diabetes need to be especially careful to make sure that the foods they eat aren’t causing problems with blood sugar levels. Many superfoods can help by keeping these levels more stable and helping the body better respond to insulin. Whether you’re worried about developing diabetes in the future, or are trying to manage this condition right now, eating more superfoods every day can give you better health benefits.
Make an appointment with Dr. Connor to further discuss how superfoods can benefit your health.

Prevention and Treatment for Diabetes

Prevention and Treatment for Diabetes

Diabetes is a major health concern. In the U.S., about 1 in 10 people have diabetes, and a third of the population has prediabetes. Many people may know that eating healthy foods and exercising more can help with this condition. However, scientific research has also shown that a person’s genetics and family history also affect whether or not they get this condition. Is it worth it to try to develop new, healthy habits if diabetes runs in your family?

What Exactly Is Diabetes, Anyway?

As we eat food, the body breaks it down into smaller components. Large carbohydrate molecules are broken down into smaller sugar molecules called glucose. Glucose travels through the bloodstream and is delivered to all of the body’s cells, which use it to make energy. Normally, after a person eats a meal, blood glucose levels rise. This signals the body to produce insulin, which tells cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and use it for fuel.

In people with diabetes, the body either stops producing insulin or cells become unable to use insulin. The end result is that too much glucose stays in the blood. The excess sugar can then damage the eyes, kidney, and nerves. Additionally, people with diabetes are more at risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation.

Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: This occurs when a person’s body does not produce any insulin. Anyone can develop type 1 diabetes, but it occurs most commonly in children and young adults. This type of diabetes is often called insulin dependent diabetes.
  • Type 2: In this type of diabetes, a person’s body does not make or use insulin as well as it needs to. This type of diabetes is often called non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type 2 diabetes risk increases as a person gets older and with other health conditions.
  • Gestational diabetes: Some women develop diabetes when they are pregnant. This condition typically goes away after the mother gives birth, but women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

Some people also develop a condition that is known as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose, which is sometimes called “prediabetes,” although I don’t use this term much with my patients because I don’t want them to feel destined to become diabetic so it is an important distinction I make in my practice.

People with impaired fasting glucose (or impaired glucose tolerance) have higher blood glucose levels than normal, although these levels are not as high as they are in those with an actual diagnosis of diabetes. If one has this condition, he or she is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future, although patients can do many different things to change this risk and avoid this diagnosis.

Who Gets Diabetes?

Anyone may develop this health condition. However, diabetes is more common in certain groups of people. For example, white people are more likely than others to have type 1 diabetes. However, people of other races are more likely to have type 2 diabetes:

  • American Indians are 2-5 times more likely to have diabetes than are white people
  • Black people are 1.7 times more likely than white people to have diabetes
  • Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans have double the chances of developing diabetes as do white people
  • Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, other groups of Hispanic/Latino people, Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Islanders are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes

Additionally, there are other factors that may increase a person’s risk. These include being over the age of 45, having high blood pressure, not getting enough physical activity, being overweight, or smoking. People with a history of certain diseases, including heart disease, stroke, depression, polycystic ovary syndrome, or acanthosis nigricans, are also more likely to have diabetes. Just like those who have prediabetes, people with risk factors can take steps to help prevent diabetes.

Women are just as likely to get diabetes as are men. However, diabetes often leads to additional complications in women compared with men. Women with diabetes have:

  • A higher chance of getting heart disease
  • An increased risk of becoming blind
  • A greater chance of developing depression

Diabetes is Genetic – Is There Any Point of Trying to Lower My Risk?

Genes provide instructions that control the way our bodies operate. The genes that we have influence everything from our hair color to which diseases we develop. Because each of us inherits our genes from our parents, researchers look at whether certain diseases run in families in order to be able to tell whether these conditions are genetic.

In the case of type 1 diabetes, siblings of people with diabetes are more likely to develop this disease themselves. This means that genes play a role in whether a person gets this condition.

The same can be said for type 2 diabetes: it runs in families. If someone has one parent with type 2 diabetes, they have a 40% chance of having this condition. If both parents have diabetes, this risk increases to 70%.

What does this mean for a person with a family history of diabetes? Are they automatically going to develop the disease, no matter what other choices they make? Not quite. Even with a strong family history of the disease, a person’s risk of getting diabetes doesn’t reach 100%. This means that there are other factors in play that also affect whether or not a person gets diabetes. These other factors consist of lifestyle choices such as what we eat or how much activity we get.

Diabetes Prevention

So how do you lower your chances of diabetes? There are many ways. The healthier lifestyle changes you can work into your daily life, the lower your risk will be.

  • Eat smaller meals: There are many ways to encourage yourself to not overindulge, such as drinking water 10 minutes before your meal so you feel more full, eating smaller portions of meat, sharing a serving of dessert with a family member, or eating more slowly.
  • Use a healthy eating plan: Getting more fresh fruits and vegetables and eating whole grains can lower your diabetes risk. Foods to avoid include foods with a lot of fat, such as fried foods.
  • Shed a few pounds: You may be able to prevent diabetes by losing only 5-10% of your body weight. This might be more doable than you think. If you weigh 200 pounds, then you would only need to lose 10-20 pounds to meet this goal.
  • Get more exercise: Try getting at least half an hour of physical activity five days per week. Going on a walk or jog around your neighborhood may be a simple solution, but other forms of activity help, too. Try dancing as you clean the house, following fitness videos online, or taking the stairs more often.

Programs that combine these elements can have a big impact. For example, the CDC established the National Diabetes Prevention Program to help people make necessary life changes. Participants are coached in eating healthier, working out, and lowering stress levels. Those who lost 5-7% of their body weight and exercised for 150 minutes per week more than halved their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Nutrition and Diet for People with Diabetes

Healthy eating is a very important part of managing diabetes. Controlling your diet can lead to better control of blood glucose levels and prevent future diabetes-related health problems.

People with diabetes should try to meet healthy eating goals like:

  • Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than a couple of big ones
  • Limit the number of carbohydrates
  • Eat less sugary foods
  • Reduce the amount of salt in the diet
  • Eat fewer high-fat foods
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Incorporate more fruits, veggies, and whole grains into the diet

One of the best ways to meet these goals is to meet with a registered dietician to come up with an eating plan. A professional dietician can help you understand what exactly you need to eat based on factors such as your weight, other health conditions, and the medicines you’re taking.

Some people who have diabetes are interested in adding natural supplements to their diet. Some of these supplements have demonstrated remarkable efficacy in studies. For example, several studies demonstrate that supplements that contain alpha-lipoic acidchromium, or vitamin C may help people with diabetes control their insulin levels and may assist in maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance.

Supplements, like pharmaceuticals, also may cause side effects. Unfortunately, research has shown that supplements like cinnamon, fenugreek, ginseng, milk thistle, and selenium don’t work for controlling diabetes. If you’re interested in taking supplements, talk to your physician first, as some of them may cause drug interactions with other medications that you are taking. This way you can come up with a game plan that works with your philosophy and also with your body chemistry. Win-win!

Physical Activity

Just as working out can lower your chance of developing diabetes, getting more exercise can also help you keep your blood sugar under control. Try to find some physical activity that gets your heart pumping just a little harder and works all of the muscles throughout your body. Tips to incorporate working out into your routine include:

  • Don’t try to do too much all at once. If you start small, and gradually increase your activity level, you’ll be more likely to exercise safely and to stick with it over the long haul.
  • Choose an activity you like, so you’re more likely to keep up the new habit. Try something new, like biking or swimming. Alternately, see if there are any fun exercise classes or sports leagues in your area, if and when it is safe to do so.
  • Get a workout buddy. You may be more likely to stick with a workout program, and have more fun, if you are going through it with a friend.
  • Make a specific action plan. If you want to go on a jog every day, pick specific days and times and mark it on your calendar. You could even try setting an alarm to make sure you don’t forget!

Make sure to check your blood sugar level before and after you work out to make sure it’s within a healthy range. If it’s too low or too high, you could run into serious health problems while exercising. Additionally, people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing foot problems. Wear comfortable shoes and socks and check your feet often for blisters or cuts.


Some people with diabetes need to take insulin. In particular, taking insulin is important for people with type 1 diabetes, because their bodies no longer make any insulin at all, although some people with type 2 diabetes also need to take this hormone due to insulin resistance the body may develop and the decrease in the secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin may be injected with a needle or a pen, or delivered to the body through a pump, inhaler, or injection port. Different methods of insulin work for different lengths of time and may kick in more quickly or more slowly.

People with type 2 diabetes may also take other medications to help control blood sugar levels. One of the most common is metformin, which helps the body produce less sugar. Many other types of medications also affect blood sugar in different ways, such as stimulating the body to produce more insulin or helping the body use insulin more efficiently. Some people find that a combination of multiple different medications helps lower their blood glucose levels more than any one pill alone.

Managing Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health is important, because high stress levels can lead to high blood glucose levels. Stress reduction techniques may include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Listening to music
  • Taking a walk
  • Gardening
  • Participating in a hobby

Managing a long-term illness can be tough, and many people with a condition like diabetes end up struggling with depression. Having a support network may help you manage. Try talking to friends or family members when you’re going through a rough patch. Additionally, in-person or online support groups exist to help people deal with diabetes. Many people also find it useful to go to a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional.

Coming Up with a Care Plan That Works For You

There are a lot of things that people with diabetes can do to help manage their condition. Work with your healthcare team to come up with a strategy that works with your lifestyle, your age, your weight, and your other health needs. You may end up working with an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in treating hormone-related conditions like diabetes), dietician, certified diabetes educator, eye doctor, podiatrist (a doctor that treats foot conditions), social worker, counselor, or other healthcare professionals.


There are many factors that may increase a person’s risk for diabetes. Some of these, such as age or genetics, are completely outside of our control. However, other factors are more easily changed. But just because one person’s genetics may predispose them to diabetes, there is still no guarantee that one is destined to develop diabetes. Focusing on the things you can control, such as how much physical activity you get throughout the day, can allow you to take your health into your own hands and help delay or prevent diabetes.

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