Do you or anyone you know have darkened skin on your neck? Your kids, friends, cousins, it maybe even your parents? It’s something we’re starting to see more often and something many of us misunderstand. Often people see this darkened skin and assume it’s either dirt which wasn’t properly washed off during showers and has now accumulated; a change in skin caused by a lotion, body wash, or anything else applied; or a sun tan in that particular area. But the real probable culprit? Elevated blood sugar.
This darkening of the skin actually has a medical name, Acanthosis Nigerians. In the United States, we are seeing this in large numbers, and earlier in life, more than ever in our history. Chronic diseases such as high blood sugar (Diabetes), high blood pressure (hypertension), and high cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia) are on the rise at alarming rates. Many attribute their diseases to genetics and feel if their parents, grandparents, or other family member suffer from a chronic disease, they are destined to also have it, which simply isn’t true. Our habits have a much stronger influence on our disease risk than our genes do.
One cause of this jump in preventable disease is because our food system is changing and we are seeing a huge increase in sugar-sweetened products, refined grains, and sugary drinks as part of everyday life. We are also much less active than we used to be, meaning more time spent in front of a screen and less exercising, doing physical work, or playing. Less activity and regular consumption of processed foods have lead to something we never expected in today’s age of advanced medicine and technology- more disease and shorter life expectancy with one of the biggest and most rapidly growing causes of death being diabetes.
Children born after the year 2000 are the first generation in 200 years expected to live shorter life spans than their parents. 200 years ago, diseases such as polio and tuberculosis were main causes of pediatric death. These days, we are figuratively digging our own graves on a daily basis with our forks, meal after meal.
There aren’t many people in the United States who can say their lives haven’t been affected at all by diabetes. Many people have at least one friend, relative, co-worker, or other acquaintance that is diabetic. Unfortunately, many people are suffering from its many devastating complications as well. Once diabetes starts to progress, it can turn deadly if uncontrolled.
Luckily, the body tries to warn and help us in the beginning stages. One of these cries for help is the darkening of the back of the neck, arm pits, and the hips. When the skin begins to change, it’s our body’s way of saying “Help! You are consuming way too much sugar and I can’t keep up with this forever! YOU NEED TO CHANGE.”
When we talk about sugar, we are not simply referring to soda and cake. Processed, packaged foods are heavy in something called carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, whether they’ve come from a Popsicle or an apple, will all be broken down into sugar in the blood. The difference, however, between the apple and the Popsicle is that the apple also comes with vitamins, minerals, and sugar’s biggest reducer- fiber.
The standard American diet (SAD) is infamously low in fiber. Fiber is essential for many functions in the body. It helps by keeping us full, helping us have regular bowel movements, lower our bad cholesterol, and keep blood sugar down. Fiber is a rough substance, which is hard for the body to break down and digest, so any foods that have fiber in them will take longer for our bodies to use, therefore, lessening the impact they have on our blood sugar.
When foods are processed and have the nutritious parts such as fiber removed, they are much easier to break down, causing a quick, dramatic spike in our sugar. When we have a larger amount of sugar in our blood, we will require a larger amount of the hormone that helps bring the sugar out of our blood and into our organs that can use it for energy, called insulin. The body naturally produces insulin, it is the “key” to the “doors” we have between our bloodstream and our organs. Without it, we would not be able to survive and function properly. Insulin, like any other hormone- testosterone, estrogen, etc.- should not be circulating our bodies in large amounts as this will have negative effects on our health.
As insulin is a growth hormone, having high amounts of it in our system causes rapid weight gain, increased appetite, and changes in our skin, such as darkening and skin tags. In order to lower our insulin, to keep our pancreas working for our whole life and not need to inject insulin, it is vital to lower blood sugar as insulin follows blood sugar’s lead.
What are some ways to lower blood sugar? Nutrition and exercise are key in disease prevention, which are our two biggest areas of intervention here at Serving Kids Hope. Reducing damaging, unhealthy habits with foods and body image, providing education to both parents and children affected, and fitness training are an effective means to an epidemic plaguing a majority of our world, one family at a time.