Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Glucose is released into the bloodstream when the food (carbohydrate) we eat is broken down. When the level of glucose in the blood rises (after a meal), this stimulates the release of the hormone insulin from the pancreas. The main role of insulin is to regulate blood glucose levels; insulin takes glucose from the blood into muscle and fat cells so it can be utilized for energy by the body.1
Diabetes occurs when the body produces none or insufficient amounts of insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes, so therefore glucose stays in the bloodstream and cannot be transported into cells.1 High levels of blood glucose in the long-term can lead to serious health complications such as heart and kidney disease, nerve problems and visual impairment.2
Generally, there are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition where the body destroys its insulin producing cells- so they are unable to make insulin.4 This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and younger adults and the onset of symptoms occurs more quickly, over days to weeks. There is no cure and management of this condition requires daily life long insulin along with diet and lifestyle adjustments.3
Type 2 diabetes however is more common and usually presents later in life and takes many years to develop. It happens when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot regulate blood sugar as some of the body’s cells don’t respond to insulin. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by making lifestyle changes such eating a healthy diet and losing weight.3 Usually this type of diabetes is managed with a healthy lifestyle and oral antidiabetic medications.
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of getting type 2 diabetes; the main risk factor is being overweight especially when body fat is distributed predominately around the abdomen. Other risk factors include having a family history of diabetes, being over 40, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes (in pregnancy) and being from certain ethnic groups. South Asian, African-Caribbean or Black African ethnicities are associated with a higher risk of diabetes.5
Prediabetes is when a person has higher blood sugar levels than normal, however the levels do not reach the threshold required to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In this group of people adopting a healthy life style is very important as it can reverse or prevent occurrence of the disease.6 According to the American Diabetes Association people with prediabetes need to lose a minimum of 7-10 % of their body weight to prevent the development of diabetes.7 They recommend increasing physical activity to approximately 30 minutes on five days of the week to help lose weight, improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and reduce blood sugar levels.7,9
As well as participating in regular daily exercise, making healthy eating choices such as eating foods that have a high fiber content such as fruit, beans and whole grains; help to lower blood sugar and are rich in energy, these will keep you fuller for longer. Processed foods that are high in sugar and salt, sweetened fizzy drinks, saturated fats, white breads and pastas should be avoided and replaced with whole wheat carbs, lean proteins and vegetables.8
The main symptoms of diabetes include; excessive thirst, an increased need to urinate, weight loss, fatigue, hunger, skin problems and cuts which don’t heal properly. If you experience any of these symptoms its important to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible.10 Diabetes is a chronic condition with no cure so far, however it can be controlled with medications and a healthy lifestyle. 11
- American Diabetes Association. Facilitating behavior change and well-being to improve health outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes — 2021. Diabetes Care. 2021; doi:10.2337/dc21-S005.
- American Diabetes Association. Prevention or delay of type 2 diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes — 2021. Diabetes Care. 2021; doi:10.2337/dc21-S003.
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