The number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled over the past 20 years. Today, an estimated 4.5 million people in the UK have the condition, equating to one in every 16 of us. Every day 700 more people are diagnosed – that’s one person every two minutes. As if this wasn’t scary enough, it is now thought that an additional one million people have already developed diabetes but not yet experienced symptoms, reported them or been treated.
Diabetes occurs if your blood sugar gets too high. There are two main types: type 1, where the pancreas gland produces no insulin at all; and type 2, where the pancreas either doesn't produce enough insulin or where the body's cells have become resistant to it. Type 1 accounts for around 10 per cent of all cases and is considered an autoimmune disease, where the body's antibodies attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and destroy them. This type of diabetes always requires treatment with insulin.
Type 2 diabetes on the other hand, is closely, but not exclusively, linked with obesity, although genetics and ethnicity also play a part. Type 2 diabetes is more common in Asian and Black communities, for example. The relative lack of insulin means that glucose cannot be used as fuel for energy, and therefore accumulates in the bloodstream. This leads to the typical symptoms of diabetes such as abnormal thirst, passing urine more frequently, tiredness, blurring of vision, weight loss and frequent infections.
It is now thought that some 22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women are currently at very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes as a result of their increased body mass index and waist circumference. This effectively puts up to 18 million people in the UK in potential danger. This includes people with so-called prediabetes, which is also referred to as ‘borderline diabetes’, ‘impaired fasting glucose’, ‘impaired glucose tolerance’ and ‘insulin resistance’.
In cases of prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not quite high enough for someone to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They do, however, have a higher chance of developing the condition (5 to 10 per cent of people with prediabetes progress to developing type 2 diabetes each year), and would benefit from advice on avoidance tactics. It is thought that 80 per cent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be postponed or prevented entirely through making lifestyle changes.
The long-term complications of diabetes can be serious and far-reaching. If not kept under control, it can contribute to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness, damage to peripheral nerves and the microcirculation of the feet. The good news, however, is that for anyone at risk and even for those who have already been diagnosed making some simple lifestyle changes can help to improve blood glucose control, prevent complications and, in some cases, reduce the need for medication and effectively reverse the condition…
5 ways to fight diabetes
Eat a balanced diet. It is important to increase the amount of fibre in your diet while reducing your intake of sugar, starch and fat - especially saturates. High-fibre foods include wholegrain bread, cereals, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables. Choose low-fat dairy products and opt for fish and lean meat instead of fatty or processed meats such as burgers and sausages. When cooking, try grilling, poaching, steaming or baking food rather than frying or roasting it.
Shed those excess pounds. Achieving a normal, stable weight is vital. Ditching five to ten per cent of your overall body weight over a year is an achievable target to aim for, and will result in significant health improvements all round. Regular exercise can lead to further weight loss.
Work it out. Current guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. In addition, muscle-strengthening activities are recommended on two or more days a week. Not only will regular exercise keep weight in check, it will also enhance the efficiency of insulin.
Keep in touch with your GP. Everyone with diabetes should have regular follow-ups with their doctor, which will include to check blood glucose levels. Ideally, these should be kept lower than 7.5 per cent. A higher result means that the blood glucose level has been consistently high over recent weeks, and that the treatment plan may need to be altered. A number of different medicines are available on prescription - usually in the form of tablets - which can help.
Stay in control. Careful blood glucose control is key. This means enjoying a healthy, balanced high-fibre diet where absorption of glucose is gradual, to help avoid any harmful surges and dips in blood sugar levels. Planning meals at home is one thing but this isn't always possible when eating out. To address this, researchers are working on a novel product taken as a pre-meal drink, designed specifically to help regulate glucose levels before meals. The on-going research looks interesting so Watch this space.