Diabetes Awareness Month: What Is It & How Gardening Can Help

Diabetes Awareness Month, observed every November, serves as a critical time for raising public awareness about the prevalence, causes, symptoms, and management of diabetes. This month-long campaign works to educate us about the impact of diabetes on millions of lives worldwide.

Diabetes, a chronic condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, effects approximately 463 million adults globally. This staggering number highlights the urgency to foster awareness and empower individuals to take control of their health

Gardening & Growing Greatness

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has to do with insulin and the way the body processes carbohydrates and sugar. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas does not create insulin at all. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body can only secrete small amounts of insulin and ultimately does not use the insulin correctly due to overeating sugar and carbs, making it impossible for the body to process the sugar. 

Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in adolescence, you cannot reverse it or treat it, and you have to use manufactured insulin for the rest of your life in order to stay healthy and alive. In contrast Type 2 diabetes is generally diagnosed later in adult life. Type 2 becomes prevalent in the body due to a combination of genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 can actually be reversed and aided by a lifestyle change in food and exercise. 

Diabetes and Gardening

While it may seem unrelated, gardening can actually be a beneficial activity for those living with diabetes.

One of the challenges faced by individuals with diabetes is managing their blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity, like gardening, can help in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing blood sugar levels. Gardening provides an excellent opportunity to engage in moderate exercise, such as walking, digging, and planting. These activities stimulate the muscles and help the body to use insulin more efficiently.

Furthermore, gardening offers an avenue for growing fresh and healthy foods. Diabetes is closely linked to an unhealthy diet, often characterized by processed and sugary foods. By growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs at home, individuals with diabetes can have easy access to nutritious produce. Consuming fresh and organic foods can improve blood sugar control and overall health.

Moreover, gardening can help reduce stress levels, which is crucial for diabetes management. The process of planting, nurturing, and watching the plants grow can be incredibly therapeutic. Spending time in nature and being physically active can enhance emotional well-being and decrease anxiety and depression, both of which can negatively impact blood sugar levels.

Gardening can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes in several ways:

  1. Physical activity: Gardening involves physical activities such as digging, planting, weeding, and watering, which can help individuals with diabetes improve their overall fitness and manage their blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity promotes better insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to utilize glucose more effectively.
  2. Stress reduction: Gardening is known to have stress-reducing effects. Stress can have a negative impact on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Engaging in gardening activities can provide a calming and therapeutic experience, which helps individuals manage their stress levels and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  3. Fresh and healthy produce: Growing fruits and vegetables in a garden allows individuals to have easy access to fresh, organic produce. Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can aid in glycemic control and help manage blood sugar levels. Additionally, homegrown produce is often more nutrient-dense compared to store-bought options, contributing to overall better health outcomes.
  4. Portion control: Growing your own food gives you control over what you consume and can help manage portion sizes. By harvesting only what is needed, individuals can avoid overeating and maintain a balanced diet, particularly essential for controlling blood sugar levels.
  5. Social engagement: Gardening can be a social activity, allowing individuals to connect with others who share similar interests. This social interaction can provide support, motivation, and a sense of community, which can be beneficial in managing diabetes. It also encourages regular outdoor time, which promotes vitamin D synthesis and general well-being.
  6. Education about nutrition: Gardening provides an opportunity to learn about different types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Through the process of planning, planting, and growing, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of nutrition and make informed choices about their diet, resulting in better blood sugar management.

Herbs: Some herbs, such as cilantro, parsley, and basil, have been shown to have anti-diabetic effects.

Combatting Diabetes

Insulin is a crucial part of the healthy, functioning body, as it is the hormone that decreases blood sugar and turns carbohydrates into energy. Being mindful of the things that you eat and the lifestyle that you live can do wonders to change your fate as a Type 2 diabetic. 

The simple act of eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods can allow your body to begin to use insulin rather than being completely resistant to it. When you eat more mindfully, your body will need less insulin altogether, which is a huge step in the right direction in combatting this disease. 

Diabetes Awareness Month

A common misconception about diabetes is that you have to completely cut out all carbs. This is not the case, rather, a balanced protein-filled diet can be helpful in changing your mind and body for the better. 

A great article in American Diabetes Association, The Health Benefits Of Gardening, reviews a first-of-its-kind study looked at the effects of community product gardens on several health measures and found that people who garden consume more fiber-rich foods, spent more time being physically active, and reported greater reduction in perceived stress and anxiety.

This year the focus for National Diabetes Month is about taking action to prevent diabetes health problems. As noted in National Diabetes Month: November 2023 there is good news: “Taking charge of your health may help you prevent diabetes health problems.”

From The American Presidency Project: Proclamation 10486—National Diabetes Month, 2022

“This month, we acknowledge more than 37 million Americans living with diabetes who inspire us to develop better treatment options, make life-saving medicines more affordable, and finally find a cure for this disease.

Interview with Rachel Ludwig of Tandem Diabetes

Rachel Ludwig

Tell me about Tandem Diabetes

Tandem Diabetes is a diabetes management company that sells insulin pumps. This is the only pump that offers a closed loop on the market. It works with the Dexcom G6 to control glucose levels.

What is a common problem you see with diabetics?

A problem that is constant with diabetes is the misconceptions on how to manage health with lifestyle. For example, people think medicine can fix the issues that they are experiencing, but it is crucial to incorporate medicine with an active and healthy lifestyle. 

What is the most common misconception about diabetes?

A lot of people think that people get diabetes because they are unhealthy, but there are many other factors including genetics and other previous health conditions.  

What has been your biggest struggle with diabetes?

When you can’t stabilize your blood sugar levels and the constant loop of up and downs, sometimes it can be easy to fall into a depressive state. This is a challenge as your blood sugar levels can affect your mental health immensely. 

What would you say to someone who is feeling discouraged about their diabetic condition?

Take it day by day. Do not get too caught up on the small stuff. There are people and resources in place that are set up to help and make life a little bit easier. Diabetes is not the end of the world and can be very manageable with practice and patience. 

Knowledge is power, and by spreading awareness about diabetes, we can help create a healthier world for everyone. This month is about diabetes education, empowerment, policy advocacy, research support, early detection, community building, and dispelling misinformation to alleviate the impact of diabetes on individuals and society.