Unexpected Benefits of Good Diabetes Management

Take care of your diabetes today to ward off complications tomorrow. 

Stephanie Guzowski

Good diabetes management will not only make you feel great, but it will help you ward off some pretty serious complications down the road—things like heart disease, kidney disease, and vision and nerve problems. But if those haven’t been enough to “scare you straight” about diabetes, consider these other benefits of keeping your blood sugar in check.

A sharper mind
People with diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop cognitive impairment, like Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study in Neurology. Japanese researchers believe that a lack of insulin—as well as insulin resistance—may be involved in the formation of plaques in the brain.

What you can do: Some research has found a link between Alzheimer’s and the consumption of nitrates, added to meats and processed foods. Protect yourself by eating fewer processed foods (hot dogs, beer, bacon) and more natural foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). What else can keep your thinking gears from getting rusty? Exercising (say, a half hour of brisk walking each day), and engaging in mind-stimulating activities, such as reading, puzzles, word games or playing a musical instrument.

Stronger bones
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are linked with having low bone density, although researchers aren’t entirely sure why. According to a recent Australian study, over a five-year period, men with type 1 diabetes showed a drop in bone density at a rate similar to that of older, postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. This means that both men and women with diabetes have a higher risk of fractures than the rest of the population.

What you can do: To help strengthen bones, eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (good sources include low-fat dairy products and green, leafy vegetables). Regular exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise (walking, dancing), doesn’t only help prevent bone loss—it lowers blood sugar levels and enhances balance and flexibility, which reduces your risk of falling and breaking a bone. Ask your healthcare provider if you need a bone density test to determine your risk.

A happier love life
It’s been known for some time that men with diabetes are prone to sexual problems, like erectile dysfunction (blood vessels and nerves in the penis can become damaged). Now, a recent study of nearly 2,300 women published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that middle-aged and older women with diabetes have sexual issues too: It seems the nerve damage caused by elevated blood sugar levels can impair lubrication and the ability to achieve orgasm. 

What you can do: Whether you’re a man or a woman, get to the root of the problem. In addition to uncontrolled blood sugar levels, possible culprits include medications, psychological issues such as anxiety or depression, and other health conditions. Don’t assume sexual problems are a “normal” part of aging—talk to your healthcare team about them. 

November 2013