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By Catherine Matthews

Wednesday, February 29, 2012.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and also the most preventable. There are 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and an estimated 850,000 people who have the condition but don’t know it. The number of people with the condition in the UK is expected to reach over four million by 2025. In 2008 diabetes was costing us 1 million sterling pounds per week. Our struggling NHS cannot afford to deal with the whopping treatment bills the chronic condition is saddling us with. This shocking statistic should encourage us all to play a small role in slowing the rise of an avoidable epidemic.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Two main types of diabetes exist, Type 1, alternatively known as insulin dependent diabetes and Type 2, originally called non-insulin dependent diabetes, the latter name is no longer used due to its inaccuracy. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the beta-cells of the pancreas and is typically diagnosed in early childhood. On the other hand Type 2 diabetes develops when a person’s beta cells produce too little insulin or when the body is insensitive to the insulin that is produced.

Diabetes is characterised by high blood sugar levels. If a Type 2 diabetic eats something sugary, like a slice of cake and insufficient insulin is produced or the body doesn’t react to the insulin appropriately, sugar will build up in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes is generally diagnosed in the over forties, however the condition is no longer a disease of the old; it affects all walks of life and is increasingly diagnosed in the young. The rise of Type 2 diabetes in UK children is a symptom of our modern lifestyles and cultures.

The symptoms

Type 2 diabetes is a very manageable disease when diagnosed early, but it can be silently destructive if mis-diagnosed. The prevalence of complications arising as a result of untreated or poorly managed Type 2 diabetes is immense.

The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes vary in intensity, and can be any of the following:

Excessive thirst 
Frequent urination
Increased appetite
Weight gain
Lack of energy
Recurrent infection
Blurred vision
Tingling in hands and feet

Risk factors

Elevated blood sugar levels (pre-diabetes) combined with obesity (a body mass index or BMI of greater than 29kg/m2) and a family history of Type 2 diabetes should cause alarm bells to go off. Physical inactivity and a diet that’s high in refined sugars may also increase your risk of developing diabetes.

Ethnicity has a role to play in dictating the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are particularly vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes.

Lifestyle rather than ethnicity is the root cause of the quick spread of the condition in South East Asians. Undoubtedly the rise is down to increased fast food accessibility and more sedentary lifestyles.

How to prevent Type 2 diabetes

It’s easy to understand why Type 2 diabetes is occurring with epidemic ferocity, considering around 80 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight and 61 per cent of the Irish population are overweight or obese. Coincidentally or perhaps not, it is estimated that 80 per cent of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes cases could be avoided if major risk factors were eliminated.

Weight management

Effective weight management can improve a person’s sensitivity to insulin and glucose control. Research has demonstrated that people at risk of Type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay the condition by losing even 5 to 7 per cent of their body weight – for a 200-pound person that would be 10 to 14 pounds. Insulin insensitivity makes weight loss more difficult, so it’s important to aim for a realistic rate of loss – a can-do attitude should be nurtured by setting attainable goals. An achievable target loss is 1-2 lbs loss per week.


Dietary changes

All Type 1 diabetics are controlled by insulin, while only some Type 2 diabetics need this level of management. Regardless of the type of diabetes, or medication requirements, everyone can help to control their condition by eating a balanced and nutritious diet. Healthful content and timing of meals and snacks will stabilise blood glucose, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and avoid or reverse obesity. Controlling these factors can limit the risk of diabetic complications, such as cardiovascular disease, retinopathy and nephropathy.

The low glycemic index (GI) diet works well for the dietary control of diabetes. GI relates to the way a carbohydrate-containing food affects blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI take longer to digest and this helps to promote more stable blood sugar levels between meals. Low GI foods may also help with satiety and preventing the urge to overeat.

If you’re taking medication, it’s essential to work with your nurse or doctor to find the level of insulin and type of diet that exhibits the best level of control.

Common symptoms of diabetes are hypoglycaemia and hyperglycemia – caused by low blood sugar levels and high blood sugar levels, respectively. Eating little and often will help to stabilise these symptoms.

Hidden sugars that aren’t added at the table are common traps for diabetics. It’s easy to identify the usual ones, such as chocolate and sweets, but what about the less obvious ones? Offenders include tinned foods and breakfast cereals. A typical serving of frosties or cheerios contains more sugar than a jam donut; better options include porridge oats or weetabix.

Sample meal plan for a Type 2 diabetic:

Breakfast – Boiled egg with granary toast
Lunch – Stuffed sweet potato
Snack – Berries & natural yoghurt
Dinner – Bean burrito

Get more exercise

Structured exercise of more than 150 minutes per week is associated with greater declines in haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), the marker of blood glucose levels, than structured exercise of less than 150 minutes per week. Aerobic exercises like swimming and walking have particularly positive effects on insulin sensitivity. If you are currently sedentary, start by doing some gentle exercise 3 or 4 times per week and slowly build up your levels.

Go for a check-up

When a person displays symptoms of Type 2 diabetes or if there is a family history of the condition it’s important to get checked out. The GP will carry out a simple diagnostic blood test.

A diabetes diagnosis is not the end of the world; the condition is very manageable with diet and medication (if necessary). Your doctor will talk to you about the best ways for you to control your condition.

Don’t forget to avail of Diabetes health screening or promotion opportunities in work. When this is in your office, do attend. With a little knowledge and small proactive steps, all of us can help to turn the tide on Type 2 diabetes.

For more information on Type 2 diabetes please visit the Diabetes UK website.


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