“Maintaining a normal weight may protect you against type 2 diabetes – a study of more than 3,000 people with pre-diabetes found that a five to seven percent weight loss lowered the incidence of type 2 diabetes by nearly 60 percent.”
The 210,000 New Zealanders already living with diabetes know the bitter realities, as well as the ‘sweet’ steps they must take to avoid having serious health repercussions, such as stroke and blindness. The good news is, adopting healthy lifestyle habits can greatly help manage this disease – or even prevent it in the first place.
Diabetes is a major problem worldwide; uncontrolled, it can seriously damage the heat and blood vessels, increasing one’s risk of stroke and heart attack. Over time, it also has the potential to severely damage other organs, such as the eyes, kidneys and central nervous system. In New Zealand, more than 210,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes, and it is estimated that there up to 100,000 Kiwis who have the disease but aren’t yet diagnosed, Maori and Pacific Islanders, Asians and South Asians are three times more at risk of developing diabetes.
While these statistics may seem grim, there is a lot we can do to significantly help reduce these numbers in future, or give those who are affected by diabetes a better quality of life.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder (metabolism refers to how the body digests and uses food for energy and growth). Much of the food we eat is broken down into simple forms of energy, such as glucose, which is a major source of fuel for our body cells.
Normally, the glucose levels in the blood rise once you have a meal. Consequently, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which is used to convert the glucose into usable energy, lowering the blood sugar levels back to normal.
If insulin is not available, or the body isn’t using it properly, the blood glucose will remain elevated (hyperglycemia in medical speak). Over time, this can be harmful to the body. The chronic condition is known as Diabetes Mellitus. When insulin is not produced at all, it is known as type 1 diabetes with insulin being administered daily by injection or pump. Insufficient absorption from the blood is responsible for type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. Ninety percent do those affected have type 2 diabetes and ten percent type 1.
People who have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels that aren’t quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes have pre-diabetes.
How it affects your health
Diabetes can have major effect on your health, including:
- Increased risk for heart disease and stroke (50 percent of people with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease).
- Nerve and blood vessel damage increase the chances of ulcers which can lead to limb amputation.
- Damage to the blood vessels of the eyes, in worst cases leading to blindness.
- Damage to the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure.
- Up to half of people with diabetes have some type of nerve damage and experience tingling, pain, numbness or weakness in their feet and hands.
Symptoms and risk factors
Pre-diabetes is the first stage of type 2 diabetes and, when detected early, lifestyle changes can help protect you from developing type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of pre-diabetes can include: feeling ravenous, tiredness, weight gain, excessive urination and blurred vision. Very often, however, people who have pre-diabetes do not have any symptoms and the only way to get a sound diagnosis is through blood tests. If you are a healthy person above the age of 45, regular blood tests once every two years are recommended. If you present with one or more of the pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes risk factor below, an annual blood test is recommended.
You May Be At Risk If You…….
- Lead a sedentary lifestyle with little or no physical exercise.
- Have a family history of diabetes – a huge risk factor.
- Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels (in other words high levels of bad cholesterol or LDL and low levels of good cholesterol or HDL).
- If you had diabetes whilst expecting a baby (gestational diabetes) or have delivered an overweight baby (more than 9 pounds).
- Suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome.
Where to from here?
Once you know that you have pre-diabetes, making some healthy lifestyle choices will keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Daily dietary choices
- Maintain a normal weight or lose some weight if needed – a study more than 3,000 people with pre-diabetes showed that a five to seven percent weight-loss lowered the incidence of type 2 diabetes by nearly 60 percent.
- Keep fully hydrated by drinking enough water each day.
- Have no more than one alcoholic drink daily (for women) or two drinks daily (for men.) If you are trying to lose weight, then alcohol is best avoided as it does add to your overall calorie intake. For the same reason, avoid high-sugar mixes (tonics, coke, lemonade) with your drinks.
- Increase your fibre intake by eating whole, fresh fruit rather than drinking fruit juice.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
- Eat more whole grains, such as oats, brown rice and barley in place of processed foods. These carbohydrate release energy slowly and can prevent a spike in blood sugar levels.
- Eat reduced-fat dairy rather than full fat.
- Don’t over-eat and watch the portion sizes on your plate. Eat a balanced daily diet of 50 percent vegetables, 25 percent lean protein and 25 carbohydrates.
Regular exercise will help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Try a half-hour walk a day, or combine a more rigorous activity such as running with something relaxing like yoga. Weight and resistance training can also be extremely beneficial.
Kick the smoking habit
Smokers are 50 to 90 percent more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers, so there’s another reason to kick the habit in the ‘butt’.
It pays to note that even if you follow a strict diet and exercise a lot, factors like stress, illness, hormone changes (especially among adolescents) and some medications cam all play havoc with your blood sugar levels.
Did you know?
- 347 million adults (one in ten) suffer from diabetes worldwide – with Kiwis and Pacific Islanders rating among the highest worldwide.
- Obesity is a leading trigger for type 2 diabetes, but there is no indication that eating too much sugar cause the disease.
- The cause for type 1 diabetes is still a mystery, but scientists believe that genetics and environmental contributors play a role. All people with type 1 diabetes require insulin therapy, as their body doesn’t produce this hormone.
- Type 2 is known to be progressive. Management will change over time from lifestyle measures only to the addition of tablet medication and, increasingly, the use of insulin injections.
- Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adults but contributing factors such as obesity have led to it being diagnosed in children less than 10 years of age.
- Type 1 diabetes, previously known as ‘juvenile onset’ diabetes, is often diagnosed in kids or teenagers, but you can develop it at any age.
- The prognosis for women with diabetes wanting to fall pregnant is much better than in this day and age. However, special blood glucose management from before conception is required.
Faith in fitness
Eating well and being an avid long distance runner are two of Jane McNamara’s key strategies for keeping her diabetes under control. This is her story….
I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I was in my late 20s. I had gone to see my doctor about they I was feeling tired all the time and she sent me to have some blood tests done. At the time, I think she suspected I had low iron levels, as I actually had to ask her to tick the ‘blood sugar’ box on the testing form, knowing I had a family history of diabetes. When my doctor rang me a day latter to say my blood sugar levels were really high and I most likely had diabetes, she was very surprised.
At the time of my diagnosis I was overweight for my height and was a bit of a couch potato. I was told if there was one thing I could do to help my body manage the diabetes, it was to lose weight. So I joined a women’s soccer team, changed my diet to mainly low GI and lost 16 kg within about a year.
I didn’t have to change my diet too much; I just made healthier choices. For example; I ate grainy bread rather than white bread, cooked with tomato-based sauces instead of creamy ones; added more fish to my diet and ate less red meat. I also started to read the labels on the on everything to check the fat, sugar, carbohydrate and fibre content of what I was buying and so became much more aware of what I was putting into my body. I also reduced my portion sizes instead of trying to keep up with my husband who has the metabolism of a cheetah.
A few years ago, I was genetically tested as my ‘diabetes doctor’ didn’t think I fitted the bill for a typical type 2. I got re-diagnosed as MODY 3 (Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young), which is an inherited genetic mutation.
Fast track 10 years, – I don’t play soccer any more, but I run. I’d always done a both of running about only 5kms once or twice a week. Then I got struck in the 10kms rut until I decided to up the ante this year – I just ran my third half marathon, beating my personal best by nine minutes! In addition to diet and exercise, I manage my diabetes with tablets (Metformin) and I had to use insulin during my last pregnancy to ensure good control of my condition.
Overall, I believe physical activity is very important to help keep your sugar levels and weight under control but it’s also important to find something you love doing otherwise it’ll just become a chore. Plus I don’t agree with cutting all bad things out of your diet – everything in moderation is okay! I still have a glass of wine a night, but don’t drink beer or spirits as they affect my blood sugar levels too much. I also don’t like the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners so I don’t use these in baking or cooking. I always reduce the level of sugar in a recipe by as much as I can before it compromises the end result.