The holidays can be a wonderful time of celebration and family gatherings. However, the holidays may also present challenges - the stress of extra responsibility, the hassle of changing routine, the dreary weather, longer nights and the temptation to overindulge and overeat. These challenges often contribute to unhealthy eating habits, a more sedentary lifestyle and weight gain - three major risk factors for diabetes.

Medical expenses for the almost 20 million people diagnosed, and estimated more than 7 million undiagnosed, with diabetes, are estimated to be twice those of people without diabetes. Major complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system diseases and limb amputations.

So What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by hyperglycemia, an excess of glucose, or sugar, in the blood stream. Hyperglycemia occurs when the body's use of insulin, which delivers blood sugar to muscles and cells to be used as energy, is compromised. It may be caused by the body's inability or impaired ability to produce insulin, or the inefficiency of muscles and cells receiving insulin. Regardless of the underlying cause, symptoms include frequent and urgent urination, increased thirst and hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and blurred vision. In addition to obesity or excess weight and physical inactivity, age and genetics also play a role in developing diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing a deficiency in the body's insulin levels. Type 1 diabetes is estimated to affect fewer than 10 percent of diabetes patients. The onset of type 1 typically escalates quickly with noticeable symptoms, and more often appears in childhood or adolescence, though it can occur at any age.

Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, the body experiences a relative insulin deficiency or resists metabolizing insulin. Most patients appear asymptomatic at onset and are diagnosed through a routine medical screening. Sometimes, patients are screened and diagnosed with pre-diabetes, when changing diet and exercise may reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Preventing and Treating Diabetes
Education, a healthy diet and regular exercise can prevent diabetes. Eating a balanced diet low in fat while maintaining an active lifestyle lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, manages blood sugar levels and promotes weight loss and weight management.

Diabetes can be treated through lifestyle modifications and medications. Education also is important so that patients with diabetes learn the potential complications of diabetes and the importance of managing their chronic illness; how to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise; how to recognize signs of low blood sugar and respond appropriately; when and how to check glucose levels and how to self-administer diabetes medication, including insulin injections.

Holiday Strategies for Diabetics
Faced with more stress, less time and many social events and holiday celebrations revolving around food, how can people manage diabetes or pre-diabetes to control blood sugar and maintain a steady weight? The answer lies in additional planning to anticipate potential problems and address them proactively, such as:

  • Exercising - With extra holiday events, expect to make more of an effort to find time to exercise. Plan ahead and modify your exercise activities to accommodate your changing schedule. If you have to get up earlier to workout, remember the holiday season only lasts a few weeks and then you can return to your regular routine. 
  • Eating - Before going to a special event where food will be served, eat a healthy snack to avoid being hungry or pack a healthy snack to take along. At buffets, choose healthier offerings, take smaller portions, beware of extras such as butter, salt and fat, and avoid lingering around the food. Drink water or unsweetened beverages and limit alcohol consumption to one drink with a meal.
  • Traveling - When traveling, prepare for unexpected delays by packing healthy snacks as well as extra medication. If you have diabetes, you should check your glucose levels more frequently than usual, carry identification that you have diabetes and keep emergency numbers and insurance cards close at hand.

The SLUCare Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
The SLUCare Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism provides comprehensive consultation and treatment for patients with diabetes and the associated complications. Using a collaborative approach, the team of specialists provides patients with access to clinical diabetes educators and nutritionists, a multidisciplinary obesity clinic, special services for visually impaired diabetics, and clinics for the screening and management of diabetic foot problems with referrals, as appropriate, to specialists in orthopedics, vascular surgery and physical therapy and orthotics.

The division has offices at Doctors Office Building and University Tower. To schedule a consultation with a SLUCare endocrinologist, call 977-4440. For more information about the SLUCare Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, visit