Diabetes affects more than 29 million people in the United States. Often the most effective treatments consist of a combination of insulin, diet and exercise. Ironically, achieving a balance between insulin and exercise can often be a challenge, especially for high-level athletes.
Diabetes is classified as type 1 or type 2 based on the body’s response to insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin enters the bloodstream in response to variations in the blood glucose level. Insulin allows glucose to enter cells and produce energy.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can't produce enough insulin. It is typically identified in childhood or adolescence but can be seen at any age.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to the insulin available or the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep up with demand. This type is usually seen in adults who have become obese. Unfortunately, it is now being seen more often in adolescents.
The goal of diabetes treatment is to create balance in the blood glucose level. This is done by decreasing the intake of glucose, burning more glucose through exercise, increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin and the administration of insulin by injection. Often a combination of these strategies is applied.
Any attempt to properly regulate blood glucose levels in diabetes requires daily planning, especially for athletes. Insulin pumps are becoming increasingly popular.
Insulin pumps are wireless devices that can be programmed to infuse insulin via a small tube placed under the skin. Athletes can adjust the rate based on their level of activity even during a long-distance event.
"The use of insulin pumps in athletes is a convenient and efficient way to deliver insulin to the body that more closely mimics the way insulin is produced in a normal pancreas,” states Dr. Deena Casiero, Head Team Physician at UConn. “Insulin pumps also tend to lead to more well-controlled blood sugars overall, which is important for any athlete.”
Hopefully, the use of insulin pumps encourages more diabetics to participate in sports at a high level.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org