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Elevated blood sugars increase risks for infections

Elevated blood glucose levels can lead to an assortment of health problems, one of which is damage to cells of the immune system. The cells of the immune system circulate through the body via the lymph and blood vessels, often settling in tissues to await an encounter with an infectious agent. When immune cells come in contact with germs, they become activated and notify other immune cells to detect and destroy the infectious agent.

Elevated blood sugars weaken the immune system

Glucose exhausts immune cells. Glucose binds proteins on the surface of cells through a mechanism called glycosylation. Extra glucose in the blood of those with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can result in glycosylated immune cells. These immune cells are activated in the absence of an infection and become exhausted and desensitized. Glycosylated immune cells are thus unable to respond effectively to infection and the immune system is weakened as a result.

Glucose can be food for germs. The excess circulating glucose in the body can act as food for invading germs. For example, people with diabetes are particularly susceptible to oral thrush, which is an overgrowth of the fungus candida in the mouth. Although candida is naturally present in the mouth, it can become overgrown as it feeds on excess glucose in the saliva of people with type 2 diabetes.

Clinical research has demonstrated that people with diabetes have an elevated risk of contracting certain infections.

  • Salmonellosis. The bacteria Salmonella is often contracted by eating uncooked poultry and eggs, resulting in an infection called salmonellosis. People with diabetes are 3 times more likely to get this infection than those with normal insulin resistance.
  • Listeriosis. The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes causes this infection, which can be contracted by eating certain smoked seafoods, deli meats, and unpasteurized milk. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to contract this infection.
  • Campylobacterosis. This bacteria, caused by the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni, infects the gastrointestinal tract and causes diarrhea. This bacterium is transmitted by drinking contaminated water, or eating undercooked meats and poultry. This infection is 4 times more likely to occur in people with diabetes.

The best way to avoid these infections is to eat fresh foods that have been thoroughly cooked.

Three ways to prevent infections due to diabetes

Because your immune system is at a disadvantage if you have elevated blood glucose levels, the Mayo Clinic advises people with type 2 diabetes to take these measures to avoid potentially serious infections:

  1. Get a flu shot every year. Getting the annual flu vaccine gives the weakened immune system time to mount an immune response to the specific strain of flu that is circulating that year.
  2. Get a regular tetanus booster. Doctors advise getting this booster at least every 10 years.
  3. Maintain good control of your blood glucose. Working with your health care team to accomplish this goal will promote a healthy immune system.

Remain vigilant about washing your hands, getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising regularly. Take advantage of those disinfectant wipes to clean off your grocery cart, and avoid exposure to those who are ill, when possible.

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