When we eat a meal our bodies break down the carbohydrate in the meal into glucose which circulates in our blood. Our bodies use this glucose as its main source of energy. Insulin is a hormone in our bodies that causes this glucose to move from the blood into the cells e.g. muscle tissue, where it can be used to produce energy.
Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high. There are two main types of diabetes. In Type 1 Diabetes the body does not produce any insulin. These patients must inject insulin. About 10% of patients with diabetes have this type. In Type 2 Diabetes the body still produces insulin but it does not produce enough or it does not work properly. About 85% of patients with diabetes have this type. This type of diabetes is normally controlled using tablets but a small number of these patients might eventually need to inject insulin.
Why is it important to control diabetes?
If diabetes is not controlled it can cause serious health problems including eye damage (leading to blindness), kidney failure, nerve damage and heart attacks and strokes. The NHS spends about £10 billion each year treating diabetes and the health problems associated with it.
Can diabetes be prevented?
It is not possible to prevent type 1 diabetes. The body’s own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. It is not known why this happens.
There are a number of risk factors involved in developing Type 2 Diabetes. These are:
- You are over 40 (or over 25 if you are South Asian)
- You have a close family member with diabetes (parent, brother or sister)
- Being South Asian, Black African, African Caribbean – even if you were born in the UK
- You are overweight, with a large waist size – over 31.5 inches for women, 37 inches for men, or 35 inches for South Asian men
- You have ever had high blood pressure, a heart attack or a stroke
- You're a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and overweight
- If you're a woman and you've had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or given birth to a baby over 10 pounds
- If you have a severe mental illness for which you take medication (such as schizophrenia, bipolar illness or depression)
- You've been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
What can be done to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes?
Some of the risk factors involved in developing Type 2 Diabetes cannot be changed e.g. age, ethnic origin, or a family history of Type 2 Diabetes.
However it is possible to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 Diabetes in 80% of cases by making simple lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes involve watching your weight, eating healthy foods and exercising more.
The following tips can help to keep your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes low:
Eat smaller portions of food. This will help to keep your weight under control and also keep your blood glucose levels more stable. If you are overweight, for every kilogram of weight that you lose you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by up to 15%.
- Base your meals on the following healthy foods –
fruit and vegetables
starchy carbohydrates e.g. wholegrain bread, wholegrain cereal or oats, pasta, sweet potato or basmati rice
dairy e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese
and a small amount of protein e.g. lean meat, chicken, fish, lentils and pulses
Try to limit your consumption of unhealthy foods that tend to be higher in saturated fats, sugar and salt e.g. biscuits, cakes, pastries, fatty meats, sausages, burgers, pies, takeaway food.
Try to do 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Exercise can include things like walking or cycling instead of travelling by car or bus and using stairs instead of the lift.
Alcohol can cause weight increase. Stick to the recommended daily alcohol limit: this is 2–3 units for women and 3–4 units for men. Avoid unhealthy snacks when drinking alcohol e.g. crisps or salted nuts.