14th November is World Diabetes Day. As more and more people have diabetes and increasing amount of people are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and the fact that lifestyle plays a big part in disease development – while it is important to raise the awareness of the disease, it is also very important to talk about its prevention.
Personally, I have diabetes in the family. I grew up with both of my aunties, my mum’s two only sisters, being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. One died from it and the other died of cancer before diabetes could claim her too. In my opinion, based on what I recall, apart from following the treatment – neither of them really took necessary care when it came to changing their lifestyle.
My mother, on the other hand, one that has always been more health conscious compared to her sisters, lived to her 79th birthday and has never developed the disease. She had a balanced diet and healthy weight. Still, this topic feels like it is very close to home as I love and miss my aunties very much.
So, what is causing Diabetes and how can we prevent it?
Onset diabetes in both children and adults (noninsulin-dependent, Type 2 Diabetes) is a condition caused by too high blood sugar (glucose). Research shows that children’s develops through a cross-reaction between a protein in milk and beef and a protein in pancreas if genetically susceptible infants are fed dairy products or beef in their first few months, before their digestive tract and immune system are fully developed.
Adult Type 2 Diabetes, on the other hand, is usually a consequence of poor eating habits – too much sugar, sugar derivates and too many simple carbohydrates in diet. The truth is, we all need some glucose as it is what gives us energy.
When body breaks down the carbohydrates that we eat and drink – they end up in a form of a glucose in our blood. Hormone called insulin, made by our pancreas, allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies. If you do not have diabetes, your pancreas senses when glucose has entered your bloodstream and releases the right amount of insulin, so the glucose can get into your cells. But if you have diabetes, this system doesn’t work.
When you have Type 1 Diabetes – your body does not make any insulin at all – and, with the right treatment and care – people with Type 1 Diabetes can still lead a healthy life. Type 1 Diabetes is a different condition to Type 2 and there are some rarer types of diabetes too.
Type 2 Diabetes, although also incurable once diagnosed, because it is mostly caused by our lifestyle – it can be prevented. Or, if we have already been diagnosed with it – we can change our lifestyle, in addition to the treatment, in order to manage it better.
What I also like to focus on is diabetes prevention in the first place as it is something that we CAN help prevent through diet, exercise and effective weight management, even if we have Type 2 Diabetes in our family’s history.
You should go and see the doctor if you are showing some of the typical symptoms of Diabetes such as an increased thirst and frequent urination, increased hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores or frequent infections, rapid changes in weight, especially weight loss, or have areas of darkened skin.
We still do not know why some people develop it and some do not, however, knowing the risk factors also shows us areas in our lifestyle that we need to improve in order to help avoid becoming a part of the statistic:
Effective Weight Management: Being overweight is a primary factor in developing Diabetes. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin. If your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen, your risk of type 2 diabetes is greater than if your body stores fat at, as an example, your hips and thighs. If you are overweight, your health is at risk of not only diabetes, but other diseases too such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, just to name a major two.
Healthy, Balanced Diet: Healthy & balanced diet and nutrition can help prevent diabetes from developing as well as prevent complications developing in those who have already been diagnosed with diabetes. It is also important to know that you do not have to be overweight to develop type 2 diabetes, but diet will still play a huge part, especially if you know you are eating way to much sugar. If you are overweight, consider a healthy & balanced weight loss plan and choose wisely. It is not just about dropping weight, but developing a balanced diet that will balance your hormones, especially those related to metabolism and the way your body metabolises sugar. Not all diets are balanced diets, therefore – not all are healthy. Also, diets that ensure optimal level of certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is essential as they have been investigated as potential preventive and treatment agents for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and for common complications of diabetes.
Optimal Physical Activity: Exercise helps you to manage weight better (in addition to a healthy and balanced diet), uses up glucose in blood as energy (rather than its excess being stored as fat) and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. So, exercise is hugely important factor in diabetes prevention (as well as treatment). Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. If you do not have much time – make time! Get up earlier in a day to fit it in. Or break it down to 10 minutes three times per day. You can choose to workout at home or office or go for a swim or a gym if you have more time. Or start by walking more. Get a buddy, perhaps. Choose to do something you like as you are more likely to commit long-term.
The risk of Type 2 Diabetes increases if your parent or sibling has it, so, looking after our diet and increasing exercise is something you need to take seriously on board if you do have Type 2 Diabetes in your family history. Certain races are also more susceptible, such as blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans and we still do not know why that is.
The risk of Type 2 Diabetes increases as we get older, especially after the age of 45. That is probably because people tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as they age. It is worth noting that Type 2 Diabetes is also increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults. This may be explained by an increased obesity and decrease in activity in young people too.
If I was developing an eating plan for someone with Type 2 Diabetes, it would be very similar for those who do not have diabetes – because eating a healthy, balanced and nutritionally optimal diet is a prerequisite to a better health for all and the same rules apply:
The key is to keep blood sugar levels stable. It is best achieved by eating little and often and choosing foods that contain slow-releasing carbohydrates containing good amount of fibre and combining those with protein. That is what balanced meals look like. It means eating some nuts or yoghurt (or both, ideally) with fruits and eating protein combined with vegetables or beans or lentils. Never eating carbohydrates on its own. Adding some healthy fats to diet too, in the right balance.
Supplementing with a high quality supplements in addition to a healthy diet to ensure that body is getting all the nutrients it needs. Particularly important are vitamins C, B3, B5, and B6, zinc and chromium.
What should be avoided is all sugars in a form of fruit juices (even eating too much of high sugar fruits such as bananas, dates or dried fruit), alcohol, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, etc., you get the picture – all that is generally bad for us and that will spike our blood sugar levels. It is also good to avoid all adrenal stimulants such as tea, coffee, cigarettes, salt and alcohol.
The number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, worldwide (WHO). The global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014 (WHO). Diabetes prevalence has been rising more rapidly in middle and low-income countries.
If nothing changes, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes by 2025 (Diabetes UK). To make the matters worse, it is not just the diabetes, but complications that develop as a result of the disease if lifestyle does not change: cardio-vascular diseases, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, hearing impairment, skin conditions, even Alzheimer’s Disease, just to name a few. They each are a further burden on the sufferer as well as on the economy.
New analysis has shown that 500 people living with diabetes die prematurely every week in England and Wales, with many of these deaths being caused by avoidable complications (Diabetes UK).
So, diabetes, in general, is a very serious condition. Predominantly lifestyle-induced Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented. If you would like to check if you are at risk, you can take this Diabetes risk test at Diabetes UK website. It could be the most important thing you do today.
If you would like to reach out and see how I can help you, please do, I would love to hear from you.
If you know someone who may be at risk, please share this article.
Thank you and wishing you great health!
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalife Nutrition Heath Coach