Aging Gracefully As Possible With Diabetes

At some point each of us, whatever our diet and activity habits are, begins to notice signs of aging.

The outward signs, such as gray hairs, and skin wrinkles reflect internal changes occurring throughout the body. Our cells, for instance, may become less adept at utilizing the glucose in our bloodstream.

If aging body tissue becomes increasingly insensitive to insulin, the hormone that shuttles glucose into our cells for fuel, blood sugar levels rise. This is why many middle-agers see their doctor for an annual physical and receive an unexpected diagnosis of pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes (T2D).

First, The Bad News

Not only is T2D a possible consequence of aging, the effects of elevated blood sugar - with type 1 or 2 diabetes - may contribute to the aging process, for instance:

  • The glucose in our bloodstream binds to proteins throughout the body (called non-enzymatic glycation).
  • The glucose and protein molecules chemically interact and produce by-products, such as advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). Since AGEs do not breakdown they accumulate in the body.
  • AGEs readily combine with other molecules and form bonds called cross-links.
  • Cross-links make our blood vessels, cells, and tissues stiff, and less functional—or even dysfunctional.

AGEs are also a likely factor in the onset of diabetes complications, including cardiovascular problems, and diabetes-related eye, nerve, and kidney disease. In turn, diabetes complications speed the aging process by eroding eye, nerve, kidney, and cardiovascular functions.

Now, The Good News

Fortunately, good glucose management makes a significant, positive difference in how long, and how well we live.

If you doubt that, consider the result of a long term Danish study involving middle aged (average age 55), overweight or nearly obese individuals with T2D, and early signs of kidney damage:

  • Half the individuals continued with their normal diabetes treatment regimen.
  • The remaining individuals were put in an aggressive treatment group that focused on blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, diet, and exercise. Suitable medications were prescribed (e.g, blood pressure meds, statins); ongoing diabetes education, and encouragement were provided.

The aggressive treatment group’s glucose, blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and triglyceride levels decreased, and the positive effects of this were longterm.

A couple decades after the study’s start, the researchers found those in the aggressive treatment group were living years longer, and had substantially decreased risk for heart, kidney, and eye complications. The onset of heart disease or stroke, for instance, was delayed an average of eight years.

“…both target-driven pharmacological (medication) and behavioral actions increased life span,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Oluf Pedersen. “And, that extra life length is free from severe and feared complications.”

Encouraging To Know

Barring an evolutionary leap, or an astonishing medical breakthrough we are all going to face, sooner or later, various consequences of aging. Still, it’s encouraging to know that healthy lifestyle choices, working with our doctor, and educating our self about diabetes can make a remarkable difference in the length, and quality our life.

Sources: Robert Dinsmoor/Diabetes Self Management; CBS News
Photo credit: jennie-o-flickr.jpg

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