It is dangerous, it does not discriminate, it is rampant and claims one victim every five minutes.
Here are some startling statistics from Diabetes Australia. We have 1.2 million diagnosed diabetics. And for each one affected there is a carer, partner or family member that is affected too. That is 2.4 million affected Australians. There are also an estimated half-a-million cases of undiagnosed Type 2 diabetics. 4,400 people lost their limbs through amputation due to diabetes last year. It is also the leading cause of preventable blindness and poses the biggest challenge to our health system. And that why July 9-15 has been declared National Diabetes Awareness Week.
People eat too much sugar, make bad lifestyle choices, and they get diabetes. That is the most common perception of the condition. Unfortunately, it is a lot more complex than that.
1. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, unrelated to the consumption of sugar or lifestyle choices. The body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Symptoms include some of the following:
- Persistent weight loss
- A constant feeling of thirst
- Need to urinate frequently
- Feeling of dizziness.
If you or a family member have any of these symptoms, consult your GP. While Type 1 was believed to affect those under the age of 30 more, there has been a growth in cases in the 30+ age group (now estimated to be 50% of the Type 1 cases, says Diabetes Australia). Sadly, Type 1 has no known cure, nor is it preventable. It can however, be well managed with regular monitoring and insulin injections.
2. Type 2 This one is closer to the common understanding of diabetes and according to Department of Health constitutes a whopping 85% of the cases. But Type 2 is not purely a lifestyle disease. Genes play a big part. Most of those diagnosed have a hereditary predisposition. A poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity only speeds up the onset. Symptoms can be similar to that of Type 1 and may include:
- Gradual weight gain
- Need to urinate frequently
- Frequent thirst
- Blurred vision
- Leg cramps
Type 2 develops over several years, and that’s why we see more cases in people over the age of 45, although in a worrying trend, diabetes in those under 45 is on the rise. There is also concern over unreported cases. Type 2 diabetics may have no symptoms for many years. The only way it is detected is when the GP orders a blood test as part of a regular check-up. That’s why routine check-ups are crucial in the early detection of many conditions. If you are overdue for one, make an appointment to see your GP right away. Statistics show the incidence of diabetes to be higher among those with Indian, Chinese, Pacific Island, Aborginal and Torres Strait Island backgrounds (in the 36+ age group).
Clearly little can be done to reduce the incidence of Type 1, but with Type 2, there is a real chance of winning the battle. The good news is that diabetics can live a very normal life, just with some rules around diet, monitoring and exercise. Why is this important?
According to the government’s e-resource, healthdirect, the problem with diabetes is the risk it poses for other conditions to develop – heart disease, stroke, blindness, nerve damage, foot ulcers and damaged ligaments and joints. Keeping blood sugar under control keeps other conditions at bay for longer.
What can be done? Here are some suggestions by Web MD:
- Diet: Understanding Food and the Glycemic Index (GI). The key to the right diet is understanding the impact of food on blood sugar. A good indicator is GI – the speed with which the body turns a carbohydrate into sugar. The lower the GI, the less impact it has on blood sugar. That’s what the diet needs to focus on. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your GP may have already referred you to a nutritionist. Work out a low-GI diet plan that is effective with your team of specialists.
- Portion sizes matter: People often forget that many food groups – including dairy and vegetables contain carbohydrates. So, they only count pasta, rice or bread as a serve. In reality, they have consumed way more carbohydrates than they think. Check the labels of all food groups and restrict the intake. Smaller, more regular, low GI meals help keep the blood sugar level.
- Exercise: Keeping active for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, is crucial. The key to a successful exercise programme is being committed and being realistic. Try this:
- Make a specific time: Whether it is going for a long walk or heading to the gym – it is easier to make it a habit when it is the same time every day.
- Don’t set impossible goals. Small, achievable and measurable goals is the way to go. It will also prevent injuries from too much exercise too soon.
- Make it social, if that’s your personality. Or go solo and use exercise time to get away and unwind. Either way, make it a pleasurable activity.
- Don’t give up. Results from exercise take time to manifest. It is not so much about taking that ‘2-week challenge.’ It’s about making a lifestyle change.
- Monitoring: There are a couple of different ways to do it. Your GP can do it a few times a year or recommend a home glucose testing kit (the finger prick test). While testing is the only way to know if your blood sugar is within limits, speak to your GP about how much you should monitor. Not every diabetic may need to have their blood sugar monitored every day. You can also check out choosingwiselyaustralia.org.au for more information.
There is only one way to reduce the incidence of lifestyle-induced medical conditions – getting on the programme. Diet, exercise and regular medical check-ups with your GP. If we all did that, we’d see a drop in not just diabetes cases, but in other chronic conditions as well.