Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disease that’s marked by high levels of glucose (blood sugar) in the blood. Known as the silent killer, diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in the US (and the world at large) and affects more than 34 million Americans. Nearly 1.5 million new cases of diabetes are recorded every year, a number that’s both startling and disturbing. 

Diabetes not only affects your heart, kidneys and brain, it has a prolonged and devastating effect on your immune system too. Uncontrolled, long-standing diabetes weakens your immune system and increases your predisposition to diseases and infections. 

Here are the 5 ways in which diabetes affects your immune system and leads to immunosuppression: 

1. Diabetes Impairs the Ability of White Blood Cells to Reach the Site of Infection

Diabetes is known to increase the risk for atherosclerosis – a disease in which fat accumulates inside the blood vessels and arteries. Known as plaque, these fat deposits lead to the hardening and narrowing down of blood vessels, which significantly affects the ability of white blood cells (the disease fighting cells) to reach the site of infection, stay there, and kill bacteria and viruses. 

This leads to delayed wound healing and increased vulnerability to subsequent infections. 

2. Chronic Hyperglycemia Slows Down the Perfusion of Blood Through Blood Vessels

Due to the thickening of blood vessels, there is also a decrease in the flow of blood to the site of injury. Less blood flow subsequently leads to a lesser amount of nutrients, defenses, and other healthy cells to reach the site of wound and initiate a repair mechanism. This delays wound healing and makes a convenient way for bacteria and viruses to enter the body and cause infection.  

As a result – skin – the key barrier in providing innate immunity is no longer competent enough to yield protection against diseases, infections, and inflammation. 

3. High Glucose Levels Limit and Deregulate Neutrophil Synthesis

Neutrophils play an important role in mediating a host’s immune response to bacterial infections. They are the first leukocytes to reach the infected area and fight infection. But high glucose levels limit and deregulate the synthesis of neutrophils in the body. 

Diabetes impairs the production and maturation of neutrophils in the bone marrow, leading to a reduction in blood neutrophil count. High blood sugar also hampers the ability of leukocytes to mobilize and reach the site of infection and stimulate apoptosis or the process of removal of unwanted cells through programmed cell death.

4. Diabetes Leads to Decreased Complement Response

The complement system is an integral part of our immune system. It enhances the ability of antibodies and phagocytic cells to fight disease causing germs and eliminate them from our body. However, hyperglycemia or high blood sugar causes defects in complement receptors and impairs their ability to cause phagocytosis. 

This phagocytosis impairment, in turn, leads to increased microbial activity in the body and amplifies your susceptibility to infections. 

5. High Blood Sugar Offers Bacteria the Perfect Environment to Thrive and Grow

Hyperglycemia promotes the production of destructive molecules in the body, which interferes with the body’s natural defense mechanism and hobbles its ability to fight infection and inflammation. The impaired defense mechanism makes way for bacterial and viral infections in the body. 

Also, increased levels of glycogen in the body lead to increased acidity – an environment perfect for microorganisms to thrive unchecked. 

A compromised immune system makes infections risky for people with diabetes and even a slightest infection affects them adversely. The weak immune system also increases the hospitalization rate in diabetics and prolongs their recovery time. 

What Can Be Done to Stay Protected?

For diabetics, the best way to stay protected is by controlling their blood sugar levels and keeping them well within the limits. It’s the easiest way to prevent problems down the road. For this, you must: 

a. Always Take Your Prescribed Medicines on Time

Insulin or pills, whatever has been prescribed by your primary care physician, take them regularly and on time. Never miss, change, or stop your diabetes medicine without your doctor’s recommendation.  

b. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Follow a diet plan that helps you eat clean and prevents an unnecessary spike in sugar. Build your plate using green leafy vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains and poultry. They not only enable you to keep your blood glucose under control, but also help you to keep your immunity quotient high. 

c. Avoid High Calorie Junk

Say a complete ‘No’ to processed, high-calorie foods and drinks that come loaded with sugar and offer little to no nutrition. Cakes, chocolates, ice creams, colas, and fries should all be off your plate if you have diabetes.  

d. Watch Your Weight

Obesity or excessive body weight puts you at high risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. It also impairs your immunity, increases inflammation, and makes your infections and other chronic health conditions worse. So, make sure to follow healthy lifestyle practices to maintain an ideal body weight. 

e. Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity helps your body to use insulin efficiently and helps you to lower your blood sugar levels. So, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.  

f. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day because dehydration can affect your blood sugar levels. 

g. Practice Meticulous Foot and Skin Care

Since diabetics are more prone to skin and foot infections, they need to maintain a regular skin and foot care routine. Check your skin every day to ensure it is free of all cuts, scrapes, and blisters. Make sure your wounds are healing well and are not turning into ulcerated infections. 

h. Visit Your Doctor Regularly

Schedule a regular visit to your healthcare provider for a routine checkup. Through routine blood work, health checks, and physical examination, he can evaluate your blood sugar levels and detect any current or upcoming infection for quick and effective treatment. 

At EPIC Health, we offer comprehensive support to help you manage your blood sugar levels and keep your immunity quotient high. Our expert primary care physicians perform a variety of tests and healthcare screenings to evaluate your health. They also provide you with complete medicinal and dietary support to boost your immunity, control your blood sugar levels, and minimize your risk of infections. They can also help you inculcate healthy lifestyle practices to help you shed your excessive body weight.  

Schedule an appointment at EPIC Health today and make way for a healthy disease-free life. We can help you live happy, healthy and better!