Cold Weather and Type 1 Diabetes
Were you diagnosed during winter? Have you noticed that your continuous glucose monitor (CGM) seems to resemble a rollercoaster when the weather gets cold? It turns out that you may not be just imagining things: climate and temperature are suspected to affect diabetes at nearly every stage, from a type 1 diagnosis to a typical day in the life of someone who’s had the condition for years.
Diagnosis of Type 1
Remember that notorious “environmental trigger” component we’ve all heard about? Factors like viruses along with genetic predisposition are important to consider in a type 1 diagnosis. According to the NCBI, viruses may be triggering type 1 “[…] via a direct cytolytic effect, or by triggering an autoimmune process leading gradually to β-cell destruction.” And viruses are more rampant in cold weather because they have a better chance of surviving when our immune system is slower to respond to their presence (Smithsonian).
Type 1 diagnoses occur more frequently in colder places, too. According to the International Diabetes Federation, Finland and Norway lead the world in the highest rates of incidence of type 1 in children (aged 0-14). It appears that cold weather may be putting us at a higher risk of contracting type 1.
Managing Type 1
Cold weather continues to affect after a type 1 diagnosis and can interfere with management of the chronic illness. If you love winter activities like skiing, skating and snow-angel-making, and you just can’t wait for those first flakes to fall, make sure you’re prepared. Here are some tips on managing type 1 when it’s chilly outside:
- Bring adequate snacks and water when embarking on outdoor winter adventures. Read through the Beyond Type 1 piece on skiing and snowboarding for more tips.
- Check your blood sugar before a physical or dangerous activity, like getting on a chairlift or embarking down a hill, especially if feeling low.
- Check your blood sugar often. Close monitoring is the best way to observe how cold weather affects your body and to address blood sugar trends.
- Remember to stay hydrated, even when it’s not hot outside—indoor heat is dry, too. Colder weather can dry you out sometimes, especially when you are working up a sweat in a snow sport.
- Make sure your equipment is warm enough (Wearing pumps and meters in a pocket close to your skin is an effective way to use your natural body heat to combat the cold. Remember that the cold can make devices inoperable and insulin frozen.)
- Double-check the temperature requirements on the label and consider replacing the insulin in your pump if your blood sugar seems inexplicably high despite diligent troubleshooting.
- Communicate with your diabetes team about what to do if your insulin has been exposed to extreme cold and make sure you have backup insulin available.
- Take care of yourself all year long. Make sure you get enough sleep, be aware of your body’s response to stress and take precautions against infections. Being nice to yourself pays off!
If you’re the opposite of a snow enthusiast and can’t wait to snuggle up in front of a warm fire, that’s okay—rest is important. But life’s all about balance! Winter might seem like a great excuse to hibernate, but there are a few fantastic reasons why you should crawl out from under that blanket on a regular basis, including treating your body well by being physically active, warding off the negative mental impacts of mood-depressors like seasonal affective disorder, and managing those blood glucose levels. There are lots of reasons to embrace the cold!
American Diabetes Association: Genetics of Diabetes
Hanas, Ragnar. Type 1 Diabetes in Children, Adolescents and Young Adults: How to Become an Expert on Your Own Diabetes. Class Publishing Ltd., 2007.
HelpGuide.org: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Diabetes U.K.: Diabetes and Cold Weather
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Hot Tips for Managing Diabetes in Cold Weather
Read Heat and Type 1 diabetes.