There has been a surge in the number of adults suffering from diabetes in the UK. According to the British Heart Foundation in just 10 years the number has increased by 65%1. Of the 3.9 million people in the UK who have diabetes, 90% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is strongly impacted by your lifestyle, and there are changes you can make to substantially reduce your risk of developing it.
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The NHS describe diabetes as a lifelong condition, where the sugar levels in the blood become too high. There are two kinds of diabetes – type 1 and type 22.
Type 2 diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus) occurs when the body doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin, or where the body's cells stop reacting to insulin. When this happens, the body stops breaking down glucose in the blood to use for energy and high levels of sugar remain in the blood stream.
|FPG: < 5.5 mmol/l||FPG: 5.5-7.0 mmol/l||FPG: >7.0 mmol/l|
|OGTT: < 7.8 mmol/l||OGTT: 7.8-11.1 mmol/l||OGTT: >11.1 mmol/l|
|HBA1C: < 42 mmol/l||HBA1C: 42-47 mmol/l||HBA1C: >47 mmol/l|
|HBA1C: < 6.0%||HBA1C: 6.0-6.4%||HBA1C: >6.4%|
Many people can have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, as the symptoms can initially be quite general. Things to watch out for include:
It is important to seek medical advice if you suspect you may have type 2 diabetes. If left untreated, it can have severe long-term implications on the health including vision loss, kidney failure, limb amputation and a five times greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are various ways in which to prevent the likelihood of type 2 diabetes. The safest and most common route is through weight loss, having a healthy diet and exercising regularly, which can all prevent and even help to control type 2 diabetes (if you have it already). This is especially important, where there is a family history of developing diabetes.
One of the biggest things contributing to the rise in diabetes, is the rise in obesity levels. It is estimated that 1 in 5 UK adults are now obese, which means they have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or greater. Recent research shows that if you are obese, you are up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than someone with a BMI of less than 22.3
One of the most critical steps you can take to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes is reducing your weight. Studies have shown that by even losing 7% of your overall body weight, you can cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60%. If you are over 65 years old, the results are higher, with your risk reduced by nearly 70%.
A healthy balanced diet will help to prevent type 2 diabetes in two ways. It will help you lose weight overall and the introduction of certain foods to your diet, will help you control your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Lower Fats: Reduce the saturated fat in your diet, and instead opt for lower fat alternatives. Change to low-fat spreads, skimmed milk, lean meats and fish and steamed or grilled foods instead of fried.
Fibre: Eat foods that are high in fibre such as fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. They help reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and will improve your blood sugar control.
Whole Grains: Whole grains reduce your risk of diabetes and help better maintain blood sugar levels. When eating bread, pasta and cereals, try and choose whole grain options.
Regular exercise is necessary to control weight, but it's not the only benefit. Regular exercise also helps you bind insulin more efficiently and improves your receptor sites, allowing you to process sugar and balance your blood sugar levels.
The NHS recommends that at a minimum, all adults should get:
Even small changes can have a big impact on the health, especially when combined with a healthy diet.
While changes to diet, exercise and weight can help prevent or halt the progression of diabetes, many may still need medication especially if they are diagnosed with prediabetes, or when exercise and a change in lifestyle does not seem to yield any great benefit. Usually this will be in the form of a tablet medication initially.
Metformin is one of the most common medications used to treat and prevent type 2 diabetes. It reduces the amount of sugar (glucose) that the liver releases into the bloodstream, and makes cells more responsive to the insulin the body produces. It's prescribed preventatively for those identified at high risk of developing diabetes, and also for those no longer able to manage their blood sugar levels with lifestyle changes alone.
There are a broad range of other medications available, if Metformin alone does not control your blood sugar levels. Some common tablet medications include sulphonylureas that increase the insulin your body produces, glitazones which are thiazolidinedione medications that make your cells more sensitive to insulin and gliptins which inhibit the action of a hormone called GLP-1.
If you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may also be prescribed other medications to manage the risk of secondary conditions – such as statins for high cholesterol.