November is Diabetes awareness month. Millions of people around the world come together to raise awareness of diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic, lifelong progressive disease that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. It is on a rise globally with an estimated 422 million adults being affected in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980. Diabetes is a major cause of heart attacks, blindness, stroke and kidney failures. In 2015 around 1.6 million deaths were caused by diabetes.
There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2. With Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Currently there is no known cure for it. This is far less common condition than Type 2. About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Although there are no lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is often linked to being overweight.
The function of insulin
When we eat and digests our food, glucose is released into our bloodstream. The amount of sugar in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach). Insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it’s broken down to produce energy. When you have diabetes, your body is unable to break down glucose into energy. This is because there’s either not enough insulin to move the glucose, or the insulin produced doesn’t work properly.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high because your body can’t make a hormone called insulin. The exact causes are not known. However, we do know it’s not caused by your lifestyle – it’s an autoimmune condition. This means that your body attacks and destroys the cells that make insulin, so the body stops making it. Without insulin, blood glucose levels get too high. That’s why everyone with Type 1 diabetes uses insulin to treat their diabetes. Currently, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, but it can be treated successfully by administering insulin, either by an injection or pump, and by following a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular physical activity.
Symptoms of diabetes
If you experience the following symptoms of diabetes, you should visit your GP as soon as possible:
- Feeling very tired
- Feeling very thirsty
- Weight loss and muscle loss
- Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
- Blurred vision
- Urinating a lot more frequently than usual, especially at night
Type 2 diabetes and how to prevent it
Around 11.9 million people in the UK are at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Anyone can get it. Type 2 diabetes is a serious health condition. It starts gradually, usually later in life, and because the symptoms may not be so obvious it might be years before you learn that you have it. Around 60% cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and exercising.
It can come on slowly, usually over the age of 40. The signs may not be obvious, or there may be no signs at all, therefore it might be up to 10 years before you find out you have it. That’s why it’s very important to know the risk factors and find out your risk, so you can do something about it. Your risk increases with age. You’re more at risk if you’re white and over 40 or over 25 if you’re African-Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian.
You’re two to six times more likely to get Type 2 diabetes if you have a parent, brother, sister or child with diabetes and two to four times more likely to occur in people of South Asian descent and African-Caribbean or Black African descent. You’re also more at risk if you’ve ever had high blood pressure and if you’re overweight, especially if you’re large around the middle or if you’ve ever had a heart attack or a stroke, or suffer from depression.
If you’re in the high-risk group to be affected by diabetes, it is within your power to minimise the risks and make the appropriate lifestyle changes by making healthy dietary choices and take part in physical activities frequently.
How to manage and cope with Diabetes
Stress can raise your blood sugar. Learning to manage stress is a good start. Try some meditation, deep breathing exercises, going for a walk in the park, doing some gardening, working on your hobby or listening to some soft music on a daily basis could help. Do some physical exercises regularly that will help you with regulating your breathing such as Yoga or Pilates.
Choose foods that are lower in calories, have less saturated and trans fat, and less sugar and salt. Opt for foods that are higher in fibre, such as whole grain rice/cereal, whole grain bread and low fat/skimmed milk. Stick with water or green tea beverages and leave out juices or soft drinks. This will help in the regulation of your blood sugar levels.
Portion your meals so that half of your plate is filled with fresh fruits and veg, a quarter with lean protein such as skinless poultry, fish or beans, and one quarter with wholegrain such as wholegrain rice or whole wheat pasta.
Stay Active, plan to workout at least 3 times per week to increase your muscular endurance and improve your cardiovascular efficiency. If you have been sedentary, start with simple body weight exercises such as squats/lunges, push ups and dips for muscular endurance and a brisk walk uphill to kick start your cardio. Once you have made some improvements and feel more comfortable, transition over to some weight bearing exercises to improve muscular strength and increase the intensity of the cardio by jogging and eventually bursts of sprints, followed by short rest recovery periods.
Follow this regime until they are fully adopted and becomes part of your lifestyle change. When this happens, you would be in a very good position in preventing Type II diabetes and even reverse the ill effects if you already have it.