World Diabetes Day is dedicated to raising awareness of one of the most common conditions whose risks are often underestimated. Diet and lifestyle adjustments hugely contribute to diabetes prevention and management, as well as to lower the risk of complications and death.
Dr Mark Spring, Consultant Endocrinologist at NVH, has written some tips on how to prevent and manage diabetes.
Diabetes is the seventh cause of death in the world.
It is estimated that one in 15 people in the UK is affected by diabetes, including those who haven’t been diagnosed yet.
WHO place diabetes as the seventh cause of death in the world and its prevalence is increasing at a faster pace every year.
629 million cases of diabetes are expected in 2045, and the shockingly increasing prevalence is mostly related to poor lifestyle choices.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is related to a hormonal dysfunction that doesn’t allow the sugar – glucose – in your blood to be transferred to your cells. This can be caused by the absence (type 1 diabetes) or insufficient production (type 2 diabetes) of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that facilitates the absorption of sugar.
The excessive level of glucose in the blood gives rise to diabetes symptoms, like the need to urinate frequently, excessive thirst, tiredness, weight loss and vision deficiencies.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed at a younger age, and it can only be treated with insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, and it usually manifests later in life.
How can you prevent diabetes?
Early detection is the most powerful tool for prevention and successful management of diabetes. More than 50% of type 2 diabetes can, in fact, be prevented.
The main risk factor for diabetes is obesity. Especially if the fat mass is present around the internal organs, such as the liver and pancreas. Other risk factors are age, race, high blood pressure and family members who have been diagnosed with diabetes.
You can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by:
• Following a well-balanced diet
• Practising sport and taking part in physical activity
• Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
How do you get tested for diabetes?
Diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test.
It may be done either fasting or random plasma glucose test, or an Hba1c blood test which reflects the average glucose level over three months.
Type 2 diabetes can be put in remission
If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, it is even more important that you make healthy changes to your lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetes can, in some cases, be put in remission through some lifestyle changes that help to stimulate insulin production and cell sensitivity to it.
In some cases, fat loss can even allow you to suspend your medication. Weight loss is sometimes enough to keep the glucose level in your blood under control.
Diet is the most powerful tool to fight type 2 diabetes.
People with diabetes are often advised to follow a low-carb or Mediterranean diet. However, a recent study shows that a plant-based diet can be more effective compared to the average diabetes diets with the same amount of calorie intake per day.
A plant-based diet rich in fibres seems to boost more cell metabolism and be more successful in losing weight and subcutaneous fat. A plant-based diet might also improve insulin sensitivity, which can, in turn, prove more beneficial in diabetes management.
Physical activity is also important in the management of diabetes.
Apart from its contribution to weight loss, physical activity helps you to control the glucose level in your blood, which helps with diabetes symptoms.
A moderate level of physical activity is beneficial, but it is important to set the right pace and let the body adjust, to avoid hypoglycaemia. It is always better to keep insulin medication with you during your training, along with a high-carb snack.
Stress is another condition of modern life that can have an impact on managing diabetes symptoms.
Stress prompts the production of cortisol, the “fight-or-flight” hormone that raises the glucose level in the blood, and can worsen diabetes symptoms.
Being aware that stress can increase your risk of diabetes complications is the first step to take care of yourself. Try activities such as yoga and meditation or take time away or walks in nature to reduce stress.
How an endocrinologist can help you manage diabetes?
An endocrinologist is a doctor specialised in the endocrine system who can investigate, diagnose and treat many hormonal conditions, including diabetes.
The endocrinologist assesses your condition and supports you in managing diabetes and its potential complications.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it is advisable to see your endocrinologist every three to six months.
Diabetes, if left untreated, can have severe repercussions on your health, affecting other organs such as your heart, kidneys, nerves and eyes. Should you notice any symptoms, book an appointment with your GP, who can refer you to a specialist if needed.
World Diabetes Day is a reminder, not only for all people suffering from this condition to take action to improve their lifestyle but also, for others who are at risk to make better choices to prevent it.