Diabetes is a condition that causes blood sugar to become too high. If a person has diabetes, the body is unable to break down glucose into energy. This is due to the fact that there is not enough insulin to transfer glucose out of the blood and into cells, or the insulin that is produced does not work properly. With nearly 3.7 million people now living with the condition in the UK—and with long-term complications including heart disease and eye damage a possibility—preventing an epidemic is crucial.
Type 1 diabetes
Only around 10 percent of people with diabetes in the UK have Type 1 diabetes, but it is an unpreventable, lifelong condition. Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, but is due to the body attacking cells in the pancreas, rendering it unable to produce any insulin at all. This causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream. To manage Type 1 diabetes, the patient must check their glucose levels several times a day, and inject insulin into their body to keep glucose levels under control.
Type 2 diabetes
Making up the remaining 90 percent of diabetes diagnoses in the UK, Type 2 diabetes also causes glucose levels in the blood to become too high. Often linked to being overweight or having a family history of the condition, Type 2 diabetes is a result of the body’s insulin being unable to work properly. The pancreas then responds by releasing more insulin, and can eventually tire out. Consequently, Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition that will eventually require medication.
- Feeling extremely thirsty
- Frequent urination
- Accidental weight loss
- Wounds taking longer to heal
- Blurred vision
Actively managing diabetes is essential for keeping blood sugar levels under control. However, it can be challenging, as many different factors can trigger these levels to rise and fall.
Food. Counting carbohydrates, monitoring portion sizes and sugar intake and eating a healthy, balanced diet are all necessary when living with diabetes. Knowing how much food to eat alongside insulin medication can also prevent the dangers of hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia—the sharp rise and fall of glucose levels that can be fatal.
Exercise. Exercise causes the muscles to use glucose for energy, helping the body use insulin more efficiently. Making an exercise plan with your doctor, sticking to a schedule and knowing what sugar levels are appropriate before exercise can help. Always be prepared with a small snack and check your blood sugar levels throughout any activity.
Medication. Insulin and other diabetes medications can lower blood sugar levels, depending on the timing and the dose. Always check with your doctor before taking any medications that are not related to diabetes, as these can also impact blood sugar levels.
Alcohol. Alcohol can result in low blood sugar because the liver is distracted from releasing stored glucose. If your doctor agrees, moderate alcohol consumption and sugar-free mixers should be safe. Always eat before drinking alcohol and check your blood sugar levels afterwards.
Stress. Stress hormones can cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Learning relaxation techniques and keeping a log of stress patterns and glucose levels can help to pinpoint any triggers.
Menstruation. Similarly, changing hormone levels throughout the menstruation cycle can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate. Menopause can also cause unpredictable variations, making it more difficult to manage diabetes. Knowing when to check your blood sugar levels more frequently and keeping a log can help. Women with diabetes can safely use most forms of birth control.
How to prevent diabetes
According to the NHS, over five million people in the UK are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Luckily, there are many small changes that can be made to prevent the condition, including:
- Finding out if you are at risk
- Setting realistic goals and making an action plan
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising more
- Losing weight, if you are overweight
Reversing diabetes—or putting diabetes into remission—is a term that refers to a significant long-term improvement in insulin sensitivity. Losing body weight can be particularly beneficial if Type 2 diabetes is obesity-related, as being overweight makes it harder for the pancreas to produce the right amount of insulin. Low carbohydrate diets, low calorie diets and exercise can help to improve the condition. Studies have shown that reversing diabetes may require a body weight loss of around 25 percent. The longer a person has Type 2 diabetes, the harder it becomes to reverse.
Did you know?
It is estimated that more than 1 million people in the UK have undiagnosed diabetes
This article was originally published in Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones. Read the digital edition, here.