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Diabetes Medications and Diet: Synergistic Success

Help diabetes drugs do their job. A high-fiber diabetes diet and regular exercise are key.
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WebMD Feature

It's a tricky balancing act - using diabetes medications to keep blood sugar at just the right level.

You're coasting along, trying to "eat right," when suddenly you're confronted with a crisis -- sharing a very large pizza. It's so difficult turning away from pizza -- yet you face the inevitable blood sugar spike, with your diabetes drugs faltering under the carb load. If you're taking insulin, the mealtime dosage will need lots of attention.

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There's also the weight gain issue: Too many calories pack on the pounds, which worsens blood sugar control.

It's serious business, keeping blood sugar and diabetes under control. There are too many health complications at stake to take it lightly. Over time, those blood sugar spikes take a toll on all your major organs and nerves throughout your body. It's nothing to take lightly. But good blood sugar control can prevent the worst complications of diabetes.

In recent years, new drugs that treat diabetes and various types of insulin have helped improve the management of diabetes and greatly improve blood sugar control. Some medication used to treat diabetes help drop weight and reduce blood cholesterol levels. But they can't do the work alone, diabetes experts say.

Lifestyle changes are essential -- a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight loss -- in letting diabetes medications do their job, says David Nathan, MD, chief of the Diabetes Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"If you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas is still trying to release insulin," Nathan explains. "But if you have a rapid rise in blood sugar, it just can't keep up with the demand. With diabetes medicines, it's the same thing. They will work better if you don't challenge the pancreas -- if you don't have spikes in blood sugar."

Bottom line:

  • You've got to watch your diet.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a normal weight.
  • Test blood sugar often as recommended by your doctor.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions when taking your diabetes medications.

There's no getting around it, if you want to live a good, long life.

Diabetes Diet Avoids Blood Sugar Spikes

A number of factors influence blood sugar levels after meals, but carbohydrates have the biggest impact, so watching what you eat is essential. You must learn to make wise food choices that won't cause blood sugar spikes -- yet indulge in an occasional pizza slice.

A dietitian or diabetes educator can help you line up a game plan for meals, says Roberta Anding, RD, a diabetes educator at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. She is also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

After all, not all carbs are created equal. "A scoop of white rice is different from a scoop of brown rice," Anding tells WebMD. "The calories may be the same, but they act differently when digested."

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