Diabetes – the silent assassin
Published 09/04/2013 | 05:00
With an estimated 30,000 undiagnosed cases, is it time for you to get checked?
Diabetes is not a curable disease, but it is largely preventable or manageable with a healthy lifestyle,
Despite consuming chocolate in what I felt was moderation, by Easter Monday I was left with what I refer to as a sugar hangover. This is no medical phenomenon, but the name I give that irritability and lack of energy that follows post sugar binge.
Sugar is the energy source of the body; we do need it to survive, but how we control that energy source and release is also key to our long-term health and well-being.
Carbohydrates get broken down to glucose in the body, so all starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, and rice, along with crisps, sweets, biscuits, and cakes, ultimately become a source of sugar.
In order to provide energy, glucose has to enter the cells in our bodies. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to these cells. Whenever blood sugar rises insulin is released, then sugar enters the cells and is used as energy.
Certain foods such as vegetables, brown bread, rice, and pasta release sugar slowly, these types of food lead to more steady sugar levels. Sugars such as white carbohydrates and sweets, crisps, etc, cause a quick sugar rise, placing higher demands on Insulin in the body.
Over time, a diet high in these foods can increase the chance of the body become more resistant to, or becoming depleted in, insulin. This results in diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes; Type 1 (previously called insulin dependent) and Type 2 (previously called non-insulin dependent).
In Type 1 diabetes the body is unable to produce insulin. This accounts for about 10pc of cases of diabetes. It is an autoimmune condition, and usually starts in childhood or adolescence.
The exact cause is unknown but the result is that the cells that normally produce insulin are destroyed and unable to function.
People diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes need lifelong insulin injections to survive.
It is estimated that just under 200,000 people in Ireland have Type 2 diabetes, 30,000 of which are undiagnosed. A simple blood sugar test can help pick this up early, before symptoms appear.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin or does not produce enough. The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and fatigue, however, they may come on gradually, or in some cases the symptoms are not obvious at all.
Blood glucose screening in those at risk can help diagnose the condition early. Type 2 diabetes is treated by diet, lifestyle modification, and medications that increase the body's sensitivity to insulin.
In some cases this is not enough, and some people do ultimately end up requiring insulin therapy. You are at risk of Type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of it, if you are obese (80pc of Type 2 diabetics are), if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, or if you are aged over 40.
So why do we care about sugar levels rising? Well when blood glucose levels are high they can damage virtually every cell in the body. The risk of heart and vascular disease doubles in the first five years after diagnosis.
High blood pressure is common in diabetics. It can also lead to kidney failure, nerve damage, erectile difficulties, eye damage, and foot and limb damage that may result in amputations. Diabetics therefore require regular check-ups to help catch any complications early, and to prevent further problems down the road.
The good news is that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes, so maintaining a healthy weight and diet and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily is really beneficial.
Even in those with the condition, if blood glucose levels are monitored and maintained at normal levels through lifestyle and medication then the risk of complications is greatly reduced.
Most people are under the impression that diabetics have to follow a special diet – the truth is there is no such thing.
It simply means eating plenty fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains, and controlling the amount of carbohydrate consumed; a diet we should all follow.
Portion control is also important: one or two small potatoes is okay, five or six is not! In those who are obese, weight loss is an essential part of management.
Diabetes is not a curable disease, but if you lead a healthy lifestyle throughout your life it is largely preventable or manageable.
We are all familiar with checking the sugar content in foods, but when did you last check the sugar in your blood?
Think about it. It might just save your life.
Health & Living