Diabetes might be something you don’t spend time worrying about, but as one of the fastest growing health threats of our times, it should be firmly on your radar. Statistics from the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation state there are currently more than 3.8 million people with diabetes in the UK and worryingly, a further estimated 500,000 adults don’t even realise they have it.
“Diabetes is divided in two types,” says Dr Jeff Foster of Spire Parkway Hospital (spireparkway.com). “Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, it is usually contracted as a young adult and requires insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which is classically later onset, is related much more to lifestyle and obesity.” According to Diabetes UK around 90% of people living with diabetes in the UK have Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition where your blood glucose level is too high. This occurs when your body doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, or the insulin you do have doesn’t work properly. Insulin helps glucose move from our blood into our cells and when it can’t do this, the glucose level of the blood becomes too high. But it isn’t all doom and gloom – research by Diabetes UK says three in five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by changes in lifestyle. Here’s how:
- 1 – Know your risk “If you have a family history of diabetes, or you suffered with diabetes during pregnancy, this increases your chances of developing diabetes in the future,” says Dr Jeff. “Visit your GP – they can test you for ‘pre-diabetes’ which is a marker for patients that may go on to develop the full blown disease in the future. They can also look at other risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height (BMI).”
- 2 – Exercise “Studies have shown that exercise improves the control of your glucose levels by helping to build and maintain muscle,” says nutritionist Jeraldine Curran (thefoodnutritionist.co.uk). “Exercise helps us to balance our blood sugar by allowing muscles to store glucose more efficiently and reducing body fat, which is great in the prevention of diabetes.” To feel the benefits you will need to up the ante though. “Set aside some time every few days to do some exercise that you enjoy, and that makes you out of breath. Unfortunately walking the dog or to work, while still great, is unlikely to provide the metabolic changes we need,” says Dr Jeff.
- 3 – Eat better, not less “Avoiding refined sugar and highly processed foods will help avoid rapid spikes in blood glucose levels,” says Jeraldine. “Reduce the amount of grains that you consume (that includes gluten-free products and wholemeal bread). Starchy grains like wheat contain large amount of carbohydrates that are broken down into sugar within a few minutes of consumption. These particularly affect the hormones that control our appetites – ghrelin and leptin – and can cause intestinal inflammation. As well as helping combat diabetes, achieving more stable blood glucose levels has been shown to improve mood, reduce menstrual cramping, headaches, hot flushes, fatty liver, anxiety and depression.”
- 4 – Keep the weight down “The main reason we advise patients to eat well and exercise is to reduce the risk of becoming overweight,” says Dr Jeff. “However, patients of a healthy weight can still develop type 2 diabetes but there is overwhelming evidence to show that obesity is probably the main contributing factor in development of the disease. There is good proof to suggest that, in some cases, appropriate weight loss can actually cure patients that were previously diagnosed with diabetes.”
- 5 – Don’t do it alone If you or a loved one is at risk, there is lots of information and support available, including local weight loss programmes, referrals to dietitians and local exercise clubs or groups. “In addition, it is important to set clear goals, sleep well, and make small but steady changes towards your ultimate goal,” says Dr Jeff. “Reducing the risk of diabetes may not be easy, but it can enjoyable, and will help set you up for a lifetime of better health.”