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Diabetes Management Needs More Attention During COVID Pandemic

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Diabetes can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight infection, putting people with the disease at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. However, by paying extra attention to diabetes management and nutrition habits, many people with diabetes who do get the virus can avoid or manage serious complications.

People with diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational) are at high risk of COVID-19 complications, even if they are doing a good job of managing their condition. There is the risk of sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other illnesses. People who already have diabetes-related health problems are likely to have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19 than those with diabetes who are otherwise healthy.

Viral infections also can increase inflammation, or internal swelling, in people with diabetes. This can be caused by above-target blood sugars, and that inflammation could contribute to more severe complications.

Planning Ahead

COVID-19 can make diabetes worse, because acute illnesses often make it harder to control blood sugar. Fever or inflammation may raise sugar levels, but sometimes people don’t feel like eating when they are sick, and a reduced appetite also can impact glucose levels.

It’s still not clear just how well certain nutrients, vitamins, anti-oxidants, flavonoids, and other food elements can boost immune systems, especially in resisting COVID-19. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that currently there is no strong scientific evidence that any natural product is useful for preventing the virus.
Nonetheless, an immune system with greater nutritional resources has a better chance of fighting the effects of COVID-19. That’s especially true for people with diabetes.

People with diabetes can better manage a period of illness by being prepared. It’s a good idea to have enough insulin and other diabetes medicines, plenty of beverages, and easy-to-fix, diabetes-friendly foods on hand to last several weeks. That’s especially true during a period of supply chain shortages and disruptions.

Nutrition for Fighting Symptoms
Fever can raise metabolic rates, so the body needs more calories to support the immune system. A sudden drop in that caloric intake may cause an illness to last longer. However, once symptoms begin, appetite may decrease, along with the energy or desire needed to prepare even a simple meal. It’s important to get some nutrients in the system, even when no appetite is present. Beverages are crucial, because dehydration can raise blood sugar level.

Anyone with diabetes who is not eating meals because of COVID-19 symptoms should at least eat or drink about 50 grams of carbohydrates every four hours, such as 1½ cups of unsweetened applesauce, or 1½ cups of fruit juice. Options to avoid dehydration include water, unsweetened tea, and low-sodium chicken broth.

This is also a time when comfort foods — and beverages — may help. They can provide enough nutrition because, even on the worst days of illness, these items still may be appealing enough that people don’t skip meals or get dehydrated.

A bowl of soup is also a healthy option, keeping in mind that you should limit carbohydrates to less than 15 grams per serving. Soup recipes can be diabetes-friendly if controlled for sodium, calories, and saturated fat. See these recipes for diabetes-friendly soups.

See these recipes for diabetes-friendly comfort foods.

A Complete Diet Plan

For people with diabetes, managing the disease is often a complicated effort. Diet is the most important part of any diabetes treatment plan, but the condition also calls for ongoing medical care and lifestyle changes. What’s needed is a total management plan, such as the Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) program.

The DSMES program is a comprehensive educational resource, offering proven guidance on diet, nutrition, medications, and monitoring glucose levels, as well as suggestions for lifestyle changes that can affect how patients manage their condition. Participants also learn how to cope with changes in living arrangements, new doctors or insurance plans, depression, financial problems, and being diagnosed with other medical conditions.

Offered at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, DSMES classes are conducted by registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators (CDEs). Most importantly, UAB Medicine’s program meets requirements established by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DSEMES classes have become an even more valuable resource. The sessions are covered by most insurance plans and are ideal for patients referred by their primary care doctor or endocrinologist.

UAB Medicine Diabetes and Nutrition Education Clinic Supervisor Barbara Roberts, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, says the DSMES classes are a proven success.

“Data show that people with diabetes who attend an education program such as DSMES have better glucose and A1c numbers,” Roberts says. “They are also less likely to have any of the complications of diabetes, such as amputations, blindness, or kidney failure.”

Click here to learn more about the Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support program, or call 205-801-8171.