Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, chapatis, yams and plantain, from sugar and other sweet foods, and from the liver which makes glucose.
Insulin is vital for life. It is a hormone produced by the pancreas, that helps regulate the amount of glucose in the blood stream and takes it into the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. This is a delicate balancing act that goes on all the time. You need to have enough glucose in the blood to provide energy for the cells to function properly, but not too much or you run the risk of damaging cells and organs.
The amount of glucose in the blood is largely determined by your diet. Eating high sugar content foods really challenges your body and it has to produce more insulin to bring the blood glucose level down. In time, your body can begin to ignore the signals of insulin and you become “insulin resistant.” This is potentially very serious and needs to be addressed with dietary corrections.
The main symptoms of untreated diabetes are increased thirst, going to the loo all the time – especially at night, extreme tiredness, weight loss, genital itching or regular episodes of thrush, and blurred vision. If you notice that you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important that you seek medical advice urgently.
People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing certain serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, nerve damage, and damage to the kidneys and eyes. The risk is particularly high for people with diabetes who are also very overweight, who smoke or who are not physically active.
You will greatly reduce your risk of developing any of these complications by controlling your blood glucose and blood pressure levels, and by eating healthily and doing regular physical activity.
There are three main types of diabetes. These are:
Type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insulin. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40. It is treated by insulin injections and diet and regular exercise is recommended.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). In most cases this is linked with being overweight due to our Western diet and sedentary lifestyle. This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40. However, recently, more children are being diagnosed with the condition, some as young as seven. Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet, weight loss and increased physical activity. Tablets and/or insulin may also be required to achieve normal blood glucose levels.
The hormonal changes of pregnancy can lead to insulin resistance and temporary diabetes in some women. Gestational diabetes usually disappears once pregnancy is over but can reappear in future pregnancies, increasing a woman’s chances of developing type 2 in later life
The main aim of treatment of all types of diabetes is to achieve blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels as near to normal as possible. This, together with a healthy lifestyle, will help to improve wellbeing and protect against long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and major arteries.
Type 2 diabetes can be managed with diet. The key is to eat foods which place a low Glycaemic Load on your body, to eat little and often and to eliminate all sugars from your diet. Exercise is also important as it can help to burn off excess glucose and stabilise your metabolism.
Suggested further reading:
- Prevention, not cure
- Glycative stress
- Avoiding diabetes