Is Diabetes No Longer a Disease of Aging? A Critical Analysis

Published on 26/01/2024 by admin

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Last modified 26/01/2024

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Diabetes is one of the chronic lifestyle conditions that most older adults fear developing (past the age of 40). It occurs when the body’s main source of energy or glucose level is too high.

Though the human body produces natural glucose, this source of energy is also derived from food. Once generated, it is the pancreas’ responsibility to distribute the glucose to different cells in the body. It does so by producing a hormone called insulin.

Diabetic patients’ bodies do not produce sufficient insulin for this process to take place properly. As a result, the glucose stays in the bloodstream without reaching the cells that need it. Patients with diabetes risk suffering from damage to their eyes, nerves, heart, and kidneys.

When one thinks of this condition, old age predominantly comes to mind. Young people seldom (if ever) ruminate about contracting diabetes (especially while they’re still young). But are the statistics painting a different picture?

In this article, we will discuss whether the link between age and diabetes is gradually shifting to include the younger demographics.

Cases Spike Among Young Adults

What once was a disease of aging is now affecting young adults (less than 30 years of age). A study found that the cases of diabetes rose from 3% to 4.1%, which further increases the risk for heart disease.

The situation is so bad that it is being deemed as a public health crisis in need of immediate clinical intervention for prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even believes that the current scenario will only snowball the issue. In other words, the prevalence of diabetes in young adults will only rise further in the next four decades.

What’s even worse is that diabetes in young adults is found to be more aggressive than that in older adults. This makes them vulnerable to life-threatening and debilitating conditions like stroke, kidney disease, cancer, and infection, among others.

The main question is why such a dramatic shift is taking place. Being a lifestyle disease, diabetes in young adults is also largely influenced by their lifestyle choices. Modern living is characterized by extreme stress, poor exercise, and on-the-go fast food. These play a major role in early disease development.

Furthermore, the risk is higher among those with a family history of the disease or obesity. Through relevant preventative measures, the risk can be cut down significantly.

Tips for Prevention and Disease Management

Many things lie beyond the realm of our control. However, certain steps can reduce the chances of developing diabetes at an unnaturally young age. Let’s look at some tips for young people (and old) to keep diabetes at bay.

Losing Weight If Required

The Mayo Clinic puts immense stress on losing extra body fat among those with diabetes or at risk of developing the disease. One’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is directly linked to conditions like pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Patients must lose at least 7% to 10% of their body weight for easier disease management and prevention. The risk is greater among those with high intra-abdominal and abdominal fat. This is because increased fat distribution in these areas leads to insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction.

Exercising Regularly

Keeping the body flexible through regular exercise and movement is necessary for a healthy life. Proper physical activity carries with it several benefits, including –

  • Weight loss
  • Reduced blood sugar levels
  • Boost to insulin sensitivity, which keeps blood sugar within its normal range

This means exercise alone can help reduce diabetes risk and maintain optimal conditions for health. Some of the effective exercises you can practice include –

  • Aerobic exercise – these include swimming, brisk walking, running, and biking. Practice any or a combination of these for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. In total, practice aerobic exercises for at least 150 minutes every week.
  • Resistance exercise – these exercises include yoga, calisthenics, and weightlifting. When done two or three times a week, they can increase balance, strength, and the ability to lead a healthy and energetic life.
  • Breaking bouts of inactivity – is crucial for those with a sedentary lifestyle. After sitting at a computer for too long, get up and walk about, stretch, and perform some light activity for at least 30 minutes.

Seeking Nursing Intervention If Needed

If you see a spike in blood sugar levels and it’s difficult to manage, seek professional help. Family nurse practitioners specialize in lifestyle disease care and management. The best thing is that they can extend medical care at home.

Trained through offline or online BSN to MSN-FNP programs, these nursing practitioners will devise a customized care plan to address patient priorities. This would include glycemic control, medication administration, education on self-management, proper foot care, and complication prevention.

According to Carson-Newman University, the nurse will develop a disease management/prevention plan only after an in-depth analysis of disease mechanisms. This is done to ensure the best possible patient outcomes. Even during self-management, the nursing professional will only be a call away to address any immediate concerns.

Eating Healthy But Skipping Fad Diets

If one chooses to seek nursing intervention, they will be offered a comprehensive diet plan (which will be more like a lifestyle change). However, in general, healthy plant-based foods can reduce the risk of diabetes. These would include –

  • Non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower and leafy greens
  • Fruits like avocados, berries, apples, and citrus fruits
  • Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans
  • Whole grains, including quinoa, rice, whole oats, etc.

Even in terms of fats, healthy plant fats like olive oil and nuts and seeds are good options. Other healthy fat sources include fish like mackerel, salmon, tuna, and cod. Moreover, it’s equally important to know what food items to avoid.

Generally, saturated fats found in meat and dairy products must be avoided. They can form a small part of the diet (but should not make up a significant portion). Also, bad carbohydrates like white bread, refined flour pasta, processed packaged foods, and sugary fruit juices are unhealthy (and will spike blood sugar).

Eating healthy does not mean focusing solely on a fad diet – keto, paleo, etc. Their long-term benefits and effectiveness for diabetes are unknown. The aim is to eat healthy for weight loss, followed by weight management. 

A good practice would be to divide the plate for healthy eating. This means half of the plate should have fruits and vegetables, a quarter should contain whole grains, and another quarter should have legumes and other protein-rich items.

As we close, let’s see how age relates to diabetes mellitus. This condition is generally caused due to a mix of poor lifestyle choices and genetics. Some people may have diabetes for years and not even know it.

The common reasons why 40+ is considered to be the diabetes age of onset include damage to insulin-producing cells and the likelihood of other medical conditions. However, this article has shown that young adults are equally at risk of developing this condition. 

No matter one’s age, it is crucial to practice a healthy lifestyle and get regular check-ups to prevent diabetes.