Editor’s note: This series will be written by practitioners from  Summit Medical Group on health-related topics. This month's author is endocrinologist Dr. Alessia Roehnelt. She has specialized training in neck ultrasound aspirations and is an accomplished researcher in the field of Cushing’s disease. She enjoys cooking, staying active and spending time with her family. 

Special to Montclair Local

As an endocrinologist, half of my practice is devoted to treating patients with diabetes. Unfortunately, it is a growing problem in this country — the number of adults living with diabetes in the U.S. has more than tripled in the last two decades. 

Dr. Alessia Roehnelt

To make matters worse, every year my patients are getting younger. Type 2 diabetes is no longer a disease of middle aged or elderly adults. In fact, more than a third of adults in the U.S. have prediabetes, a condition of high blood sugars that often progresses into full-blown diabetes. Fortunately, detecting it early—and taking the appropriate steps to manage it—can reverse the process. 

In the beginning stages of prediabetes or diabetes, patients typically have no symptoms. In fact, 90 percent of people with prediabetes do not even know they have the disease. This is why it is so important to follow up with annual physicals even if you are feeling well. Symptoms usually only appear when diabetes is very out of control, including feeling thirsty all the time, urinating more than usual, feeling very fatigued and changes in your vision throughout the day. 

The two biggest risk factors for developing diabetes include having a family member with diabetes or being overweight. If you fall into one or both of these categories, it is never too early to start screening for diabetes. I’ve seen many young, healthy, active 20-somethings who were tested for diabetes just because a grandparent had it, and it turned out they had blood sugar problems as well. 

Controlling diabetes early on in the diagnosis is important in predicting your cardiovascular health a decade or two from now. A lot of patients ask me what they can do to control their blood sugar before starting medications. 

Diabetes control starts with your diet. Carbohydrates and sugars are your enemy, so the first thing you need to do is remove any sugary beverages from your daily routine and cut down on sweets, bread, pasta, and rice. I try to fill my plate with as many vegetables as possible, and make sure to get some kind of protein and healthy fat in there as well. My go-to lunch at work is a homemade salad with baby spinach, walnuts, feta cheese and avocado, topped off with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar with an apple for dessert. Apples, especially tart apples, can satisfy your cravings for carbs while helping to curb your appetite. 

Drinking plenty of water, reducing stress and getting daily exercise can also help lower your blood sugar and benefit your overall health. You can split up the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week — take the dog for a walk in the morning; walk around the parking lot at lunch, and take a post-dinner walk to unwind. Personally, I enjoy going for a quick jog in the park after work, or taking a fast-paced walk around downtown Montclair over lunch. 

Do not underestimate the power of healthy lifestyle changes. It is easy to jump to medications, but I have seen plenty of patients control their diabetes with diet and exercise alone. If medications are needed, there are numerous options. Treatment of diabetes is very patient-specific. 

Diabetes is a very manageable disease. Some of my patients have waited years before coming in to see me, because they were afraid they might need insulin. But catching diabetes early opens up a huge opportunity to stop it in its tracks and reverse some of the damage. It all starts with you—make an appointment to see your doctor and be evaluated today.