Type 2 Diabetes; 3 Steps to Reduce Your Risk, or Improve Health Prospects Post Diagnosis

Vikki Scovell

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You may have heard about type 2 Diabetes. This disease has become increasingly common over the last 20 years, with the numbers of sufferers growing steadily. It is the seventh biggest cause of death in the US. Type 2 Diabetes used to be called Late or Mature Onset Diabetes as it usually occurred in older individuals. Unfortunately due to changes in our diet and activity levels, increasing amounts of people are affected by this disease at younger ages. Now even children and teenagers are affected; a previously almost unknown phenomena.

So who is at risk of developing this disease? It is thought that we develop this disease when a number of risk factors are brought together. Type 2 Diabetes risk factors range from things which you cannot control;

  • Age; this condition becomes increasingly common after age 40.
  • Gender; women have almost twice the risk of men.
  • Heredity; people with a family history are at higher risk.
  • Heritage; people of non-Caucasian descent are at higher risk.

    To things which you can control;

  • Weight; being overweight increases your risk: if you are obese you have an 80% chance of developing this disease.
  • Diet; eating large amounts of saturated fat, or a high sugar diet increases your risk.
  • Exercise; inactivity is one of the main risk factors.

    Type 2 Diabetes affects the way that our body controls blood sugar levels. The body needs blood sugar levels to stay within a narrow range; too little or too much will cause problems. When we eat food, carbohydrates are broken down into their simplest form (glucose) and absorbed into the blood stream. As blood sugar levels rise after eating, the body needs to keep them level, and secretes a hormone called insulin which removes the sugar (glucose) from the blood, and stores it in the muscles and liver. If these stores are already full, then the sugar will be stored as fat.

    Overeating, frequent snacking, drinking sugary drinks and eating simple carbohydrates (sugar, honey, white bread etc) keeps blood sugar levels permanently elevated, causing insulin to be endlessly secreted. The human body is designed for a low-sugar diet, and this overuse insulin may cause the body to stop producing it, or for the insulin to stop working. When this happens, blood sugar levels remain high, but the sugar cannot find its way to where it can be stored, or to where it is needed. This causes symptoms of hunger, cravings, dehydration, thirst, and frequent urination (as the body tries to excrete the sugars). Other symptoms include recurrent thrush and skin infections. Often people are unaware that they have developed this condition until they have a health check, or develop a related health problem. It is thought that up to a million people remain undiagnosed in the UK.

    Untreated, this condition has serious health implications; high blood pressure, stroke, circulatory problems, a huge risk of heart disease, amputation, nerve damage, loss of feeling in the limbs, problems with feet, kidney disease, eye problems, blindness, and hypoglycaemia; low blood sugar levels leading to headaches, loss of concentration, drowsiness, and (rarely with type 2) unconsciousness.

    If you are concerned that you may be at risk, you can easily arrange to have your blood sugar levels checked by your GP. Type 2 diabetes, once diagnosed, can be successfully treated and controlled through lifestyle changes, and often without recourse to drugs. (If controlled Type 2 is rarely treated with insulin injections; this is the treatment for Insulin Dependant Diabetes, a severe condition which usually occurs in youth and must be treated with insulin).

    Everyone can take 3 positive steps to reduce risk. If you have already been diagnosed, the same 3 steps will help manage the disease, and reduce the risk of developing further complications;

    1. Maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight if you are currently overweight; using a combination of steps 2 and 3. Much is said about the link between obesity and Type 2 (80% of type 2 Diabetics are obese), and many of us think of obesity as being extremely overweight. However, obesity (from the Latin Obesus meaning fat, plump or stout) only means having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 30, which may not be as big as you think. It is better to think that if you are overweight, your risk is larger than if you are a healthy weight. To find your own BMI click www.nhsdirect. nhs.uk/interactiveTools/bmi.aspx

    2. Eat small regular meals which are rich in unrefined whole grains (brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta, oats, barley etc), fresh fruit and vegetables, and low in sugar, salt, refined processed foods, and saturated fats. This will keep your blood sugar levels balanced, prevent cravings for sweet foods, and keep blood pressure and circulation healthy.

    3. Stay active every day, walking, gardening, or exercising for at least 60 minutes each day (this can be broken up into smaller sections). This activity need not be formal exercise, or extremely strenuous; just keep moving. Exercise will reduce high blood sugar levels, but this lasts only for several hours, so the exercise must be regular to maintain the beneficial effects.

    Once diagnosed, a healthy diet and regular activity become essential to maintain health and avoid further complications. Type 2 diabetics have a greatly increased risk of developing coronary Heart disease (CHD), with half of male sufferers and a third of female sufferers dying of CHD. However, sufferers who improve their fitness and stay active are at a lesser risk of succumbing to CHD than a non-sufferer who is unfit. Type 2 Diabetics are also at risk of developing other circulatory problems, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, stroke, and vision problems. The same three steps mentioned above will also help to reduce risk of developing these health problems.

    The message is clear; you can lower your risk, or improve your health post-diagnosis through maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and staying active every day.

    Type 2 diabetics should always consult their GP before starting a new exercise and diet regime, and exercise should be avoided;

  • In excessive heat.
  • If blood pressure is raised.
  • With very high or very low blood glucose levels (self-testing is recommended).
  • If there are any related eye, foot, kidney or kidney problems, or loss of feeling in the hands and feet.

    Make sure that you act today to reduce your risk of developing this disease. If you have already developed it, take action to improve your health, and avoid further problems.

    Vikki Scovell BA(hons) PG DIP is a fully qualified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach. She is a qualified Nutrition Adviser and runs successful Community Exercise classes. Vikki is a consultant in Healthy Eating and Exercise initiatives to schools in the independent sector and publishes School and General Healthy Living newsletters. To receive a free weekly newsletter email getfitter@yahoo.co.uk or visit http://www.getfitter.net

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