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With permission from NEI
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With permission from NEI

Diabetes is the #1 cause of blindness in this country.

Diabetes is a disease involving the production and use of insulin.  Insulin is a very powerful hormone that is made in the pancreas.  Digestion of sugar, starches and other foods creates glucose.  The glucose travels throughout the body in the blood vessels to the individual cells.   If insulin is present, the individual cell allows the glucose into be converted into energy.  If there is not enough insulin present the glucose cannot enter the cells and the cells will be starved for energy.  Over time, high glucose levels in the blood can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.

There are 2 main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes results from a lack of insulin production in the pancreas.  These people must take insulin injections or they will die.

Approximately 0.12% of Americans (400,000) have this type.  We do not know it’s cause, but it might be genetic or viral.  It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance.  The cells do not respond normally to the insulin and do not allow the glucose into the cell.  Approximately 5.8% of Americans (18 million) have this type and it is often associated with obesity.  It is sometimes controlled with diet, exercise and weight loss, but oral medications or even insulin are often needed.  Approximately 19% of Americans (57 million) have pre-diabetes in which the blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.  Many of these people will eventually become diabetic.

The American diet has changed drastically in the last three decades.  A large part of the average American diet consists of super-sized fast foods and simple carbohydrates.  We sit at the computer or the TV and do not get the exercise we need.  Just look around and you can see that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.  Look at our kids.  Many are obese.  It’s no wonder the incidence of diabetes has doubled in the last three decades.

The key to keeping blood glucose levels down is to balance the food you eat with your physical activity.   It’s all about diet, exercise and weight control.   The carbohydrates in food make blood glucose levels go up.  Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (baked goods, white bread, some cereals, candy and chips) increase glucose the most and should be avoided.  Lean meats, most vegetables and most fruits are better choices.  Daily exercise is important.  Try to lose 10 pounds.

Because their diabetes is not well controlled, 8% of diabetics will develop diabetic retinopathy, in which blood and fluids leak inside the eye leading to scar tissue and possible blindness.  Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in this country.  Approximately 1.5 million Americans will develop diabetic retinopathy and possible blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy can only be detected with an eye examination.  Having an annual eye examination is important for everyone, but it is extremely important if you have diabetes.

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