Diabetes, November 14th is World Diabetes Day.
As defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease which consists of consistently elevated blood sugar levels. This often happens resulting from long-term unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Overtime, this elevated blood sugar levels can cause insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes) or resulting from little or no production of insulin from the pancreas (type 1). This can have detrimental effects to the health of the heart, eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and nerves. If gone untreated, diabetes can lead to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) and nerve damage in limbs (neuropathy) leading to limb amputations.
Access to affordable treatment for individuals living with diabetes is crucial for their survival.
According to the WHO, there are about 422 million people suffering from diabetes worldwide; many of which are living in poverty or low and middle-income countries.
Increasing awareness of diabetes, its prevention and treatment, is vital.
There are 1.5 million deaths a year attributed to diabetes, many of which could have been prevented by proper education and support.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an organ-specific autoimmune disorder, where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells. It is usually diagnosed in childhood, although in rare cases, it can develop at adulthood.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin, this can result from prolonged negative lifestyle choices.
The symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are similar, below are some of the warning signs to look out for:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Fruity/ sweet smelling breath
- Irritability & mood swings
- Blurry vision
- Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
- Weakness or fatigue
- Rapid or heavy breathing.
If you, or your child, are experiencing these symptoms and you’re worried about diabetes, take action and do not hesitate to contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Preventing type 2 diabetes is, in most cases, possible. Studies show a link between excessive weight and diabetes, and many global health bodies have committed to halting the rise in diabetes and obesity by 2025.
You can check your risk factors for type 2 diabetes on the NHS website: https://preventing-diabetes.co.uk/know-your-risk-dtc/
What can you do to reduce your risk?
Here are a few simple ways you can help to prevent developing type 2 diabetes:
- Increasing activity levels/ participating in regular exercise, daily.
- Consuming less unhealthy sugars
- Consuming less unhealthy fats
- Not over consuming carbohydrates - having a healthy amount of whole and unrefined carbohydrates (i.e. wholemeal pasta, rice, & bread; a quarter of your plate)
- Consuming healthy, balanced meals and ensuring they are cooked in a healthy way (half a plate of vegetables, a quarter protein, and quarter wholemeal carbs. Grill, boil or roast instead of frying).
Additionally, if you are in the higher risk categories, or if you’re concerned, take action and ask your doctor for a blood test to check for blood glucose. In the UK, there are NHS pre-diabetes programs offered to those whose blood glucose tests indicate a risk of developing diabetes. These programs coach individuals on different lifestyle factors which could contribute to reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and they are very successful in achieving that with compliant patients.
So much has been invested into diabetes research by Diabetes UK, you can help be part of that by donation, click the link below to contribute: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApb2bBhDYARIsAChHC9uXb2hy9t7b_VsITwkgWh_B11bADiUMxfmv4HH5A_tW46moNydRSxYaAp6ZEALw_wcB
You can find out more about type 1 & type 2 diabetes: symptoms and risk on the Diabetes UK website (link below).
Blood glucose is the sugar that our bloodstream carries to all cells in the body to supply our bodies with energy, this sugar comes from our diet.
Insulin is the hormone in the pancreas which allows the body to use glucose for energy, and also helps maintain glucose levels.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the bloodstream and so also count for the glucose in our blood.
It is important to keep blood glucose levels within a safe range to reduce the risk of diabetes.
Our bodies are made to regulate blood glucose levels throughout the day; enough to fuel our cells but to not overload the bloodstream.
Beta cells are cells in the pancreas which produce, store and release insulin (a hormone that helps take glucose/ sugar out of the blood into cells to be used). When there is constantly too much glucose in the blood (from a high-sugar / high-carb diet), the body can become resistant to the effects of insulin, and hence the body will overproduce insulin to try and keep blood glucose levels normal, causing the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (beta cells) to burn out.
How blood sugar is used in the body:
1. When you eat food that contains carbohydrates, your body breaks the food down into sugar (aka glucose) and passes it into your bloodstream to carry it around your body
2. When your pancreas notices the increase in blood glucose, your beta cells produce insulin
3. Insulin acts like a key that unlocks a door on the surface of a cell and opens it to let the blood glucose go inside (ready to be used for energy by the cells)
4. Levels of blood glucose fall to normal levels as extra sugar enter the cell
In healthy individuals this works every time to allow glucose levels to remain constant.
1. Overtime your body’s cells get less sensitive to insulin (insulin insensitivity) meaning effect of insulin doesn’t work and blood sugar levels keep getting higher
2. As your blood sugar levels keep rising so your beta cells have to work harder and harder to produce more insulin to try and get blood sugar levels down. Eventually, they get tired and stop working properly. Your body stops producing enough insulin and blood sugar levels keep rising. High blood sugar is bad for your body because it leads to gradual hardening of the blood vessels, this can affect your body’s systems and it is how diabetes leads to liver and kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage and poor circulation to your legs and feet.
3. Because your body doesn’t like high blood sugar levels, it starts to move the extra blood glucose into fat cells. Fat cells also make your body more resistant to insulin. This means your body gets caught in a vicious cycle.
Type 2 diabetes gets diagnosed when your body regularly cannot produce enough insulin to reduce blood sugar to safe levels.
How to reduce your blood glucose:
To reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, we need to reduce the lifestyle behaviours that block the action of insulin (insulin blockers) and increase lifestyle behaviours that get insulin system working properly (insulin activators)
✓ Being active- cells become more sensitive to insulin and use up excess blood glucose
✓ Reducing weight (if overweight) – reduces size and activity of fat cells and so restores insulin sensitivity
✓ Eating less unhealthy (unsaturated) fats – allows cells to take up glucose and hence insulin is less resistant
✓ Eating less unhealthy sugars (refined sugars) – gives your beta cells a rest from overproducing insulin
✗ Being overweight – fat cells produce hormones that make your body cells less sensitive (more resistant) to insulin. This leads to higher levels glucose in the blood because the insulin is not working properly to allow glucose to be taken up by the cells
✗ Being sedentary – a sedentary lifestyle means that your body does not get to used to using insulin, cells will become more resistant to the effects of insulin and blood sugar levels rise.
✗ Consuming lots of unhealthy sugars/ carbohydrates – a high consumption of sugary foods makes the beta cells work harder to produce insulin and the greater the chance they will become exhausted
✗ Consuming lots of unhealthy fats – A diet high in saturated fats leads to the production of blood fats (cholesterol) which increases the resistance to insulin, this means blood sugar levels will keep increasing.
It is so important that all sufferers are receiving the correct treatment and that individuals who are at high risk have access to support and education on ways to reduce that risk. Prevention is possible most of the time for type 2 diabetes; and prevention is always better than a cure!
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World Health Organization