Thursday 14 December 2017

Four ways to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes

The chance of developing type 2 diabetes rises with age, says our dietitian, but here are four no-nonsense ways to reduce your risk

Many cases of diabetes are suitable for treatment with diet and exercise
Many cases of diabetes are suitable for treatment with diet and exercise

Orla Walsh

Insulin is a hormone. Its job is to help glucose, a simple carbohydrate, to travel from your blood into your body's cells, where it is used as energy. Type 2 diabetes is when the organ called the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin produced does not work properly. A simple way of describing it is that it's like heading out dancing on a Saturday night and there is either a lack of taxis to get you to the club or else when you arrive the bouncer will not allow you in. Either way, you can't get inside.

In diabetes, when the glucose can't get into the cells, it builds up in the bloodstream. Often people feel very tired when they have undiagnosed diabetes or uncontrolled diabetes, as this glucose can't get into the cells to be used as fuel.

When glucose builds up in the bloodstream, your body cleverly tries to pee it out, increasing the amount of times you need to urinate a day. As you're losing lots of water in this process, you become very thirsty. Similarly, if you're weeing out this glucose, you're urinating out the calories that it provides the body, which can result in weight loss. It's worth noting that this plays havoc with your mood.

Your blood vessels become damaged by the excess levels of glucose that they need to transport, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and diseases of the blood vessels in the arms and legs. As blood vessels lead to the eyes and kidneys, they too suffer loss of function, coupled with the damage that's occurring to nerves in both these precious organs.

It can be argued that a lot of the conditions and diseases that develop in a person's body are simply due to being overworked. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age. Additionally, the risk of type 2 diabetes increases with increasing levels of fat on your body and continuing levels of stress inflicted on the body through overeating. For example, the risk of having undiagnosed type 2 diabetes increased by 89pc for every 5kg/sq m increase in body mass index (BMI).

A study tested 30,000 Irish people for type 2 diabetes between 2009 and 2013. The frightening results showed that 17pc of participants had abnormal fasting blood sugar levels. It is estimated that 10pc of the national health budget is being consumed treating the condition - frustratingly, 42pc of which is on drug costs, despite many cases of diabetes being suitable for treatment with diet and exercise.

When someone is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, or has developed type 2 diabetes, it's important to respond tactically. There are four important aspects to consider.

1 Address your carbohydrate intake

All carbohydrates, whether simple or complex, are broken down by the digestive system and released as glucose into the blood. It's important to tailor your carbohydrate intake to your requirements. In diabetes, the carbohydrate is building up in the blood as the body is struggling to cope with it. For this reason, if blood glucose levels are high, it makes sense to reduce your intake until they go back to normal again. Sources of carbohydrate include bread, pasta, rice and breakfast cereals as well as the less healthy foods like sweets, cake, biscuits and crisps.

2 Move more

When we add petrol to a car, we decide how much we add to the petrol tank based on how frequently we drive our car, how fast we drive it and how far we go. When it comes to our carbohydrate intake, it's very similar. The more we move, the faster we move and the further we go, the more carbohydrate we need. Moving more, or increasing physical activity levels, is a must for diabetics. The more we move and the more time we spend out of breath, the more you're burning through the carbohydrate in your body and this instantly starts to reduce blood glucose levels. The list of benefits of exercise for someone with diabetes is incredibly long and could be argued to be the most positive impactor on their health. Aim for more than 10,000 steps a day.

3 Build muscle

If we stick to the analogy of the body and its requirements for carbohydrate being similar to a car and petrol, our tank is our muscles. The big benefit of building brawn is that we increase the size of the tank of the car. When a car has a big tank, it takes in more petrol and uses more petrol. Similarly, the more muscle we have, the more carbohydrate we can take in, store and burn through. So if you have diabetes, consider lifting weights, going to a pilates class or trying the likes of yoga. In short, increase your muscle mass to decrease the problem.

4 Improve your blood vessel health

A lot of the damage caused to the body by diabetes is through its negative effect on blood vessels. Not only can you drastically reduce this potential damage by controlling your blood glucose levels, you can also include foods in your diet that actively help improve the health of the blood vessels.

For example:

• Peppers and berries should be added to the diet for their vitamin C content - this micronutrient is necessary for optimal collagen formation, contributing to the functioning of the blood vessels

• Eat walnuts regularly to help improve the elasticity of the blood vessels

• Rocket, cabbage, celery, spinach, lettuce and beetroot should be included in the weekly shop for their high nitrate content; nitrates help widen blood vessels and allow blood to flow through the vessels easier.

* Type 2 diabetes is manageable and can be brought into remission through diet. This will not only add quantity to your life, but also quality.


• Type 2 diabetes usually develops slowly in adulthood. It is progressive and can sometimes be treated with diet and exercise, but more often type 2 diabetes may require antidiabetic medicine and/or insulin injections.

• Risk factors

• You are over 40

• You have a parent or sibling who has diabetes

• You had diabetes during a pregnancy

• You are overweight for your height

• You do not take 30 minutes of physical activity daily

• You have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol

• So, can you prevent it?

• Yes, up to 40pc of diagnoses may be prevented with healthy diet and weight management

• A further 40pc may delay onset of the condition with changes to diet and healthy activities to curb weight gain


Health & Living

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life