Thursday, August 29, 2013

Learning About Diabetes, Glucose, and Carbohydrates

I have gone back to the beginning and started trying to learn more about diabetes. When Silent Sam was first diagnosed, I just accepted what I was told and did not ask any questions. As a result, I didn't really know what diabetes was, what happened if blood sugar isn't controlled, and how eating really affected blood sugar.

It has been very interesting. I now know that for Silent Sam, his beta cells are either not producing insulin or his body is insulin resistant. Insulin resistance means that even though it is there, the body is not using the insulin it produces. 

I have also found that the body uses glucose as energy. Glucose is produced in the body during the digestion of carbohydrates. In a person without diabetes, the glucose is joined by insulin and is carried to the cells to provide energy and if the cells don’t need all the glucose and insulin that they are then stored either as glycogen (long term energy) or as fat. In a person with uncontrolled diabetes, the glucose cannot be used for energy because it’s not matched with insulin. Cells will not accept glucose without insulin. The glucose then flows through the blood stream and eventually is excreted in urine. The problem is that while the glucose travels through the blood stream it damages the passageways. That damage is particularly bad in small blood vessels. The glucose thickens the blood vessels and less blood can get through.  The glucose also damages the walls of the blood vessels. 
Red blood cells

In learning all this information, I also came across the concept of the glycemic index and the glycemic load. At first, I thought that the glycemic index was just another fad diet. I was wrong. The glycemic index was introduced in the 1980s. It was introduced as a way for people with diabetes to be able to control their blood sugar better. The basic concept is that there are some carbohydrates that when ingested affect the blood sugar quickly and there are others that the affect takes much longer. 

The basic desire is to have the blood sugar be pretty constant during the day.  Therefore by watching which carbohydrates you eat, you can help to maintain your blood sugar levels. 

The best quote I read about including the glycemic index information in your diet indicated that if you are careful with your carbohydrates already then adding the glycemic index information is just another layer of help. 

Next week – How they determine the glycemic index of a food and what is a glycemic load.

Thanks for reading!

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