A black woman eating fried food
Diabetes has a closer association with food than perhaps any other disease. . © Image Source IS2 - Fotolia.com

You’ve been tired lately. And your vision isn’t what it used to be. You’re always thirsty – which means you’ve been running to the bathroom a lot. But these are little things – not even worth mentioning to your doctor.

The reality is, feeling tired, sudden vision changes, increased thirst, and frequent urination are classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes that should not be ignored. Other symptoms of diabetes include extreme hunger, itchy or dry skin, slow-healing cuts or sores, more infections than usual, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, and unexplained weight loss.

In America nearly 26 million people are quietly living with diabetes and, of that number, 7 million don’t know they have the disease.

Diabetes is practically invisible with a few subtle symptoms. But, if not properly cared for, its progressive effects can put you at risk for kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, amputation and even blindness.

Of the 26 million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes in the United States, four million are African-Americans. A full quarter of African-Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have it. One quarter of all black American women over 55 have it. And black people suffer greater consequences from the complications of diabetes. For example, they experience kidney failure four times more often than white Americans with diabetes. They’re twice as likely to suffer from diabetes-related blindness, and more likely to experience amputation as well.

There are three major types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin. People with type 1 need to take daily insulin to live. In type 2 diabetes — the most common type, which has risen in incidences along with the obesity epidemic — the body does not make or use insulin well. People with type 2 may need to take pills or insulin to manage the disease. A third type, gestational diabetes, occurs in some women during pregnancy. It usually goes away after the birth, but these women and their children have a greater chance of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.

Type 2 diabetes most often occurs in people who:

  • Are older than age 40. As you age, the pancreas, where insulin is made, may not work as well.
  • Are overweight or physically inactive. When you’re heavy your cells become more resistant to insulin.
  • Have a family history of diabetes. Other members of your family having diabetes makes you a prime candidate.
  • Have a history of diabetes during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones make your cells more resistant to insulin. After the baby is delivered, the hormones and blood sugar levels go back to normal.
  • Have given birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds. Women giving birth to large babies might have had gestational diabetes, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
  • Are African American, Latino American, or American Indian. Researchers think this may be cause by the “thrifty” genes that helped our ancestors survive by increasing fat storage during periods of famine. But today, with food readily available, the ability to store fat only results in obesity.
  • Have impaired glucose tolerance. This means you have blood glucose levels above normal, but lower than a person with diabetes.
  • Have high blood pressure or high blood fats. These conditions are associated with insulin resistance.

The more items that pertain to you the greater your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It’s easy to have one or two symptoms – feeling tired, contracting infections – and think nothing of them. But if you have one of the other risk factors noted above, that makes you a prime candidate for diabetes – and you have some of the classic symptoms of diabetes, you should definitely seek advice from your healthcare team, including a registered dietitian or RD.

Diabetes has a closer association with food than perhaps any other disease. And what you eat has a big impact on how well you can prevent or manage the disease. But having diabetes doesn’t mean the end of good eating. An RD will work with you to create a healthful eating plan tailored to your specific needs. Even if you eat traditional soul food, Caribbean food or Creole food, you’ll be happy to know that many traditional dishes can stay on your menu.

Click here to find an RD in your area today.

The sooner you’re diagnosed the sooner you are able to start to manage the disease and live a long healthy life.

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD is an award winning registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is the author of The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes. Follow Brown-Riggs on twitter @eatingsoulfully.