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Diabetes is no joke! This is the most prevalent condition in the world. In fact, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 420 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes. And the number is steadily rising. Diabetes can impact quality of life and cause other health problems if it is not managed properly. Digestive problems can become more likely in people with diabetes. Though they are not directly related, diabetes and digestion have an impact on one another.
HealthShots spoke to Dr Sandeep Kharb, Senior Consultant Endocrinology Asian hospital Faridabad, to find out the link between diabetes and gut health.
If you have been living with diabetes for a long time or have recently been diagnosed with the condition, you are likely to be familiar with the complications like vision loss, kidney diseases and in extreme cases, amputations. But poorly controlled type 2 diabetes can affect other organ systems, including your digestive system. The longer you have been living with the condition, the more you are likely to suffer from digestive problems associated with diabetes.
Some of the common digestive problems brought about by advanced diabetes and poorly controlled blood sugar include:
The stomach contains a high amount of hydrochloric acid and when it fails to empty the acids on a regular basis, your gastric juices fire back and cause damage to your esophagus resulting in acid reflux also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). High blood sugar can cause damage to the nerves along the digestive tract that interfere with this gastric emptying. Common symptoms of acid reflux include chest pain and difficulty swallowing.
Treatment includes medication, lifestyle changes, like losing weight and quitting smoking, and potentially surgery as a last option.
If your stomach fails to empty itself correctly, you may experience gastroparesis in your stomach besides acid reflux in your esophagus. Gastroparesis is a disease in which the stomach is not able to empty itself of food in a normal fashion resulting in symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating and pain, weight loss, and acid reflux. This is a common condition in long-standing diabetes regardless of whether it is well controlled.
Treatments for gastroparesis include changes in your diet like skipping high-fiber or high-fat foods, medication, and surgery.
This condition results from damage to the nerves in your gut and can sometimes present with symptoms resembling irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as diarrhea and constipation. This is caused by excess levels of glucose in the blood which gets deposited onto the nerves and if that persists for a long time, the nerves can actually die off, and that damage to nerves in your gut can also cause other serious complications to diabetes, including kidney dysfunction and retinopathy, or damage to eyes.
Treatment can include taking medication that speeds up the stomach’s emptying, decreasing fat and fiber consumption, etc.
Just because you have diabetes does not mean you need to give up on the digestive problems associated with it. Follow the tips given below by Dr Kharb to help keep your digestive system in working order while living with diabetes:
If you are suffering from diabetes, it is important to keep your blood sugar under control at all times to stay away from the complications associated with the disease. Besides, also pay attention to your A1C – average level of glucose over the past two to three months within a healthy range. The level at which esophageal function and gastric function are impaired is directly proportional to A1C elevation.
A healthy diet high in fiber such as whole grains, beans and veggies like broccoli benefits people with diabetes. On the other hand, a diet high in refined sugar and carbs such as white bread, pasta, and rice can alter the gut microbiome.
Instead of eating a full meal at one go, consider eating small, frequent meals throughout the day to help with symptoms of acid reflux and gastroparesis.
Control your urge to lie down after eating. Staying upright, walking, or standing for a couple of hours after a meal will prevent stomach acid from backing up into your throat if you have acid reflux.
Lastly, if you experience symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before they get worse. At times, symptoms like acid reflux could be due to other causes like candida infection, so it is important to get yourself checked.
Keeping blood sugar under control is key to preventing gastrointestinal issues associated with diabetes. Make sure to reach out to your medical team if you are suffering from diabetes-related GI symptoms as these can lead to severe complications when left untreated.