Health & Wellbeing Service
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to produce sufficient insulin to control blood sugar, allowing higher than normal levels into the bloodstream.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 - this usually occurs in children and develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. It is not yet understood why this happens but it may be a combination of genes and environmental triggers. A low Vitamin D level during pregnancy may also be a factor. The incidence of Type 1 diabetes in children is rising at a rate of 3-4% a year.
Type 2 - this usually occurs in adults over 40, also known as “late onset diabetes”. However, it is now being diagnosed in children as young as seven. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). In most cases this is linked with being overweight.
How is diabetes treated?
Diabetes is treated in two ways - a combination of diet and exercise and/or medication with tablets or insulin.
Type 1 diabetes must be treated with insulin injections due to the body’s inability to produce its own insulin. With new research, islet cell transplants from donor pancreases are proving to be promising for the future which allows the patient to start producing their own insulin again.
Type 2 diabetes may be controlled by diet and exercise alone. When this is insufficient, there are three types of medication that may be prescribed. One type increases the amount of insulin secreted by the pancreas. Another increases the action of insulin within the body. The third type is able to delay the absorption of glucose from the digestive system.
Once diabetes has been diagnosed, the patient is taught how to check their glucose levels regularly from a fingerprick blood test, and also a urine test. They should also receive advice on healthy eating from a dietician and have regular health checks by their GP, Practice Nurse or at their Diabetic Clinic.
The health checks are very important and every diabetic patient should be seen at least once a year to monitor blood sugar control and to check for any complications.
Diabetics have a higher than average risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes and neuropathy which affects the sensation in the feet and lower legs. Eye tests are also necessary to check for retinopathy which may lead to blindness.
Living a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in not only managing diabetes but preventing Type 2 diabetes, as well. Studies have shown that eating three small meals a day with healthy snacks in between helps to regulate blood sugar. Regular exercise of at least 30 minutes three times a week is also beneficial.
Avoiding foods that are high in trans or hydrogenated fats, and eating carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index will also help with blood sugar regulation. See www.glycemicindex.com for the values of a range of foods. Foods with a low Glycaemic Load are also better for controling diabetes. For a Glycaemic Load calculator, click here. High fibre foods such as wholemeal bread and brown rice are preferable to their white, refined versions. Oat bran or oat meal are also good sources of fibre.
Sugar should be limited but beware of artificial sweeteners as they have been found to adversely affect blood sugar. A natural sweetener called Xylitol is a healthy alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Nutrients such as vitamins C and E can help insulin penetrate cells more efficiently and also protect the cardiovascular system. The trace mineral chromium found in broccoli and grapefruit has been shown to regulate blood sugar. Magnesium is also good for glucose control and is often lacking in diabetics.
More information is available at www.diabetes.org.uk. According to the charity, Diabetes UK, over 2 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, yet it is believed there may be another million who are unaware that they have the disease.
Disclaimer: The information in this article should not be regarded as medical advice. If you are receiving medical treatment or taking prescribed medication, you are advised to consult your GP or health practitioner before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.