You probably know someone with diabetes. Now get to know the disease!

Who would you say is the greatest Canadian of all time?

The CBC TV series “The Greatest Canadian” put Tommy Douglas — aka the “Father of Medicare” — at the top of its 2004 list, just ahead of Terry Fox and Pierre Trudeau.

No. 4, however, is a man whose name is less recognizable. Sir Frederick Banting won the 1923 Nobel Prize in medicine for his co-discovery of insulin, a hormone that regulates how our bodies use sugar and other nutrients. Why was this such a breakthrough? Until then, diabetes was one of the deadliest diseases on Earth. After being diagnosed, diabetic children rarely lived a year, and less than 20 percent of adults lived more than 10 years.

The discovery of insulin has saved hundreds of millions of lives and continues to keep diabetics alive and kicking. Today there are 11 million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes, with a new case being diagnosed every three minutes. No wonder Diabetes Awareness Month — November — is such a big deal.

The discovery of insulin was a game-changer, to be sure. But has it made all the health issues surrounding diabetes disappear? Not even close!

What is diabetes, anyway?

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body either can’t make insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it makes. This leads to high blood-sugar levels, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. If left untreated or improperly managed it can be fatal, with severe complications including blindness, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, erectile dysfunction, and amputation.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 usually develops in childhood or adolescence, so type 2 is the kind most adult men need to watch.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

There is no single cause for type 2 diabetes, but there are several factors that boost your risk of developing it. Here’s what increases diabetes risk:

  • Being over 40 years of age.
  • Being overweight, especially around the middle.
  • Having high blood pressure.
  • Having high cholesterol or other fats in the blood.
  • Being of Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Many people who have type 2 diabetes show no symptoms. That’s why guys aged 40 and up should see their doctor about checking their blood-sugar levels through a quick and easy test.

When symptoms do occur, they can include the following:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health-care provider ASAP.

How can I reduce the chances of getting type 2 diabetes?

Good news! There’s plenty you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, and it can all be done by making small, easy changes to your daily routine.  

Be physically active: The Weekly Fitness Challenge slides easy exercises seamlessly into your busy workday or family life. Just how easy is it? Check it out!

Cut down on fats and sugar in your diet: You’ve come to the right place for tips on eating healthier. See how a few small changes can make a big difference!

Achieve a healthy weight and maintain it: Put exercise and healthy eating together, and controlling your weight comes naturally. With these easy recipes, great taste is also part of the equation.

Don’t smoke: Kicking the habit can be a challenge, but there’s plenty of help at hand.

Maintain a healthy blood pressure: This can be achieved by exercising (check!), limiting your alcohol intake — there are lots of easy ways to do that — and cutting back on smoking (check!).

Know where you stand: Use the super-handy YouCheck.ca health tool to assess your risk of developing seven of the most common diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, among Canadian men.

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