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Top tips for diabetics this holiday season

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Being diagnosed with diabetes means making a lot of alterations to your lifestyle, and it can be especially difficult to keep up with it during the holiday season.

Dr. Deneen Vojta, senior vice president for business initiatives and clinical affairs at UnitedHealth Group and chief clinical officer for Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance, offered these helpful pointers to manage the disease while enjoying the festivities. While these tips are helpful for diabetics, she said that they could be of use to anyone who wants to stay healthy during this holiday.

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Many tempting, traditional holiday foods are loaded with carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike.

"Recognize that there are times in our lives that are natural weight gain times, and the holidays are a recurring one," Vojta said.

She said its important for diabetics to especially keep track of how much they eat and how much they exercise at this time of year. Exercise usually dips during the winter and food consumption increases, so its important to stay in control of your blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar and your weight.

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Keep yourself and your gear warm, and don't get cold feet


It is important for people with diabetes -- and especially people with neuropathy, or nerve death -- to keep their toes covered and warm in the cold weather. Avoid hot water bottles or electric blankets, and wear several pairs of loose-fitting socks and slippers instead. Diabetics are told to check their feet regularly because they often lose sensation in that area.

"You can easly get frostbit and you won't even know it because you can't feel it like other people," Vojta said.

To dress appropriately for the cold weather, wear layers and keep your head and extremities covered. Also, be sure to keep your blood glucose meter, medications and other diabetes supplies insulated and well-protected. People should also note that they spend calories differently whether their body is warm or cold. Try and keep your body at its normal temperature to avoid additional stress on your body.

Get vaccinated

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Vojta said that many people don't think about dying from influenza, but if you look at people who are at the most risk of dying from the flu it is people who are young, old and those with chronic disease.

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are three-times more likely to die from influenza or pneumonia, and five-times more likely to be hospitalized due to flu complications. So be sure to get vaccinated at the very start of the cold and flu season.

Wash your hands


Another good way to avoid getting colds or respiratory viruses over the holidays is to wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap and/or an antibacterial product. Vojta adds that you should keep your hands away from your face.

"It's just good hygiene, but it's just highlighted when you have any kind of disease," she pointed out. "There are a lot of germs that go around."

Eat thoughtfully and be merry, but watch the drink

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Close-up of bottle of champagne and flutes in the background of business people

Often, people who are counting calories forget -- or purposefully skip -- calories found in drinks and alcohol.

Vojta points out there are a lot of calories in alcohol so people should drink in moderation.

Alcoholic beverages dilate blood vessels and accelerate the loss of body heat. Alcohol can also mask the signs of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes. So be mindful of alcohol intake, especially at office holiday parties and family gatherings.

Seek counseling if you're feeling blue

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Several studies suggest a correlation between diabetes and depression, with rates of depression increasing as diabetes complications worsen. Depression also is known to spike each year around holiday time as well.

"When you add in holiday depression it can be compounding," Vojta added.

If you're feeling low, sluggish, devoid of energy, or sad, do not be afraid to reach out for help.

Check in on the elderly

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Seniors with diabetes are more susceptible to the effects of the cold due to a reduced ability to control body temperature and a decrease of subcutaneous fat. If you know an elderly person who lives alone and suffers from diabetes and/or other chronic illnesses, give that person the best seasonal gift of all -- check in on him or her regularly during the holidays.

"This time of year, it's sort of everything at once," Vojita said. "We all get busy with our lives, and (the elderly) are a group that should often have regular contact."

Stay hydrated


All the decadent food can be bad news for diabetics.

"If your sugars are out of whack and getting high and you start urinating more, you may become dehydrated," Vojita warned.

Alternating exposure to outdoor cold weather with indoor heating systems is a recipe for dehydration, which can raise blood glucose levels and cause dry skin and eyes. Drink lots of water and liberally apply alcohol-free moisturizing lotion throughout the winter months.

Strive for a stress-free season
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Stress has been shown to affect blood sugar levels, so try to make your holiday season a little less hectic. That can mean making sure you're not overextending yourself and keeping your social schedule and shopping lists manageable.

"We all have stress," Vojita explained. "When you identify your stressors, the best way to deal with stress is to avoid it."

Vojita said if you notice that if you go to a certain person's house, get stressed out and your sugar levels sky rocket, it might be time to rethink that holiday visit.

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