Diabetes, its that word we have all heard but unless its affected us or a loved one we often don't know much about it. I always thought you got it because you ate too much sugar (facepalm) however there is a great deal more to it. I can remember when a cousin of mine was diagnosed at the age of three it was so taboo, no one really knew much about it. Thank goodness for research and education! Diabetes is a serious complex condition which can affect the entire body. Diabetes requires daily self care and if complications develop, diabetes can have a significant impact on quality of life and can reduce life expectancy. While there is currently no cure for diabetes, you can live an enjoyable life by learning about the condition and effectively managing it.
When someone has diabetes, their body can’t maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a form of sugar which is the main source of energy for our bodies. Unhealthy levels of glucose in the blood can lead to long term and short term health problems. For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the conversion of glucose into energy. In people with diabetes, insulin is no longer produced or not produced in sufficient amounts by the body. When people with diabetes eat glucose, which is in foods such as breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurt and sweets, it can’t be converted into energy.
Instead of being turned into energy the glucose stays in the blood resulting in high blood glucose levels. After eating, the glucose is carried around your body in your blood. Your blood glucose level is called glycaemia. Blood glucose levels can be monitored and managed through self care and treatment.
Three things you need to know about diabetes:
- It is not one condition- there are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes
- All types of diabetes are complex and require daily care and management
- Diabetes does not discriminate, anyone can develop diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. We do not know what causes this autoimmune reaction. Type 1 diabetes is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors. There is no cure and it cannot be prevented. Without insulin the body burns its own fats as a substitute which releases chemical substances in the blood. Without ongoing injections of insulin, the dangerous chemical substances will accumulate and can be life threatening if it is not treated and leads to dangerously high glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. We do not know what causes type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors. Type 2 diabetes also has strong genetic and family related risk factors.
Type 2 diabetes develops over a long period of time (years). During this period of time insulin resistance starts, this is where the insulin is increasingly ineffective at managing the blood glucose levels. As a result of this insulin resistance, the pancreas responds by producing greater and greater amounts of insulin, to try and achieve some degree of management of the blood glucose levels. Initially, type 2 diabetes can often be managed with healthy eating and regular physical activity. Over time most people with type 2 diabetes will also need tablets and many will eventually require insulin. It is important to note that this is the natural progression of the condition, and taking tablets or insulin as soon as they are required can result in fewer long-term complications.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (sometimes referred to as GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Most women will no longer have diabetes after the baby is born. However, some women will continue to have high blood glucose levels after delivery. It is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels first appear during pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes is the fastest growing type of diabetes in Australia, affecting thousands of pregnant women. Between 12% and 14% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes and this usually occurs around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. All pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy (except those women who already have diabetes). Women who have risk factors for gestational diabetes should be tested earlier in their pregnancy.
In pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that help the baby grow and develop. These hormones also block the action of the woman’s insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Because of this insulin resistance, the need for insulin in pregnancy is 2 to 3 times higher than normal. If you already have insulin resistance, then your body may not be able to cope with the extra demand for insulin production and the blood glucose levels will be higher resulting in gestational diabetes being diagnosed. When the pregnancy is over and blood glucose levels usually return to normal and the gestational diabetes disappears, however this insulin resistance increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life.
Can we prevent diabetes? You can do a lot to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, read our tips below. Currently type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. However, researchers are looking into the autoimmune process and environmental factors that lead people to developing type 1 diabetes to help prevent type 1 diabetes in the future. People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent the condition by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regular physical activity
- Making healthy food choices
- Managing blood pressure
- Managing cholesterol levels
- Not smoking.
You can check out your risk level using the below link;
The cure is in research! so please educate yourself and be aware of the risk factors.