‘Eat for Our Health’ |17 November 2023
An overview of diabetes
Diabetes is a condition that many of us are all too familiar with either because we have the condition or we know a family member, relative or close friend who has it. Despite the widespread knowledge about diabetes however many people only worry about it after they have been diagnosed with the condition.
As a way of raising awareness about diabetes, November 14 is commemorated annually as ‘World Diabetes Day’. This annual event provides an opportunity to increase the public’s cognizance about the impact of diabetes on people’s health and to emphasise the importance of strengthening the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diabetes.
The theme for World Diabetes Day over the last three years has been ‘Access to Diabetes Care’. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) has adopted the slogan: ‘Know your risk, know your response’ for this year’s Diabetes campaign. The campaign focuses on the importance of knowing your risk of type 2 diabetes to help delay or prevent the condition. It also highlights the impact of diabetes-related complications and the importance of having access to the right information and care to ensure timely treatment and management.
Millions of people globally have diabetes, with over 90 per cent of cases being type 2 diabetes, in addition to the many others who are yet to be diagnosed. Although type 1 diabetes is not preventable, in most instances type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes. But when we talk about diabetes we also consider all its long-term complications like blindness, kidney disease, heart disease, nerve damage, among others which brings with it economic loss to individuals, families, health systems and society as a whole.
This is in the form of direct medical expenses to procure for example medications or specialised equipment or for specialist care. The cost also trickles down to work absenteeism, inability to work because of complications and therefore loss of workforce and wages. What is more worrying, is the fact that many people do not perceive diabetes as a problem until they are diagnosed with the condition. This therefore means that the future economic prevalence and burden of diabetes remains a critical point of concern for many countries around the world including Seychelles.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition which leads to high blood glucose (sugar) level. Glucose is the body’s main energy source and can either be made by the body or come from the food that we eat.
In a person without diabetes, a hormone called insulin is produced by the organ pancreas in response to glucose in the blood. The insulin helps move the glucose from the blood inside the body cells where it is used up. However, when a person has diabetes the body either does not produce any or sufficient insulin or the insulin produced cannot be used effectively by the body. Therefore, the glucose just stays in the blood (causing high blood glucose) and is unable to move into your cells.
There are two main forms of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. It is more common in young children and young adults although it can still occur at any age. When a person is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they have to take lifelong insulin therapy as their body is unable to produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is more common in older adults. However, it can also occur at any age. Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors are non-modifiable meaning that you cannot do anything to change them such as being older or having a family history of diabetes. There are however a number of other risk factors that we do have control over to a certain extent such as overweight and obesity, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol level as they are linked to our lifestyle habits, namely poor dietary choices and lack of physical activity.
Gestational diabetes is another form of diabetes which only occurs during pregnancy. It is usually as a result of hormonal changes happening in the body during pregnancy but is also influenced by certain risk factors such as age, family history and being obese. Although blood sugar usually goes back to normal after delivery, a woman has increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in her life.
Even if prediabetes is not technically a form of diabetes it is worth mentioning it. Many people are told that they have prediabetes or borderline diabetes and take it lightly. In the prediabetes stage, your blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. In fact, prediabetes is the stage prior to developing type 2 diabetes but it can still be reversed if you make the necessary changes to your lifestyle habits.
How can I reduce my risk of developing diabetes?
Some forms of diabetes cannot be prevented such as type 1 and gestational diabetes. Nevertheless, early detection remains key in delaying or preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. If a person has existing risk factors or have been found to have prediabetes, they can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by adopting and choosing healthier lifestyle habits. Undiagnosed diabetes or late diagnosis means that the person can have serious or life-threatening complications in the long-term.
When it comes to your lifestyle it really is all that we have been preaching about for other chronic diseases. This includes the food choices that you make every day; your level of movement – whether you sit down the whole day with limited physical activity; your intake of alcohol; smoking; getting adequate rest and sleep and managing stress.
Making the right dietary choices
There is no special diet for diabetes just as there is no special or magical diabetic food. Your food choices should be based on natural and minimally processed foods that are packed with important nutrients as shown in the Seychelles Food Guide.
The main nutrient of concern in diabetes is carbohydrates which becomes glucose in the body. Therefore, the type and amount of carbohydrates consumed is key here – both quality and quantity are important. Avoid all refined carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, and anything made from white flour. It goes without saying that highly processed foods like chocolate, sweets, juices, cake, soft drinks and other sugary foods should also be excluded as they can cause high blood glucose level.
The preferred carbohydrates are wholegrains like oats, bulgur wheat and barley and local starchy foods like breadfruit and sweet potatoes. However, be mindful of portion sizes as less really is more in terms of blood glucose control. When dishing out your plate try following ‘my healthy plate’ as a guide, with a greater focus on non-starchy vegetables like green leaves, tomatoes and cabbage and a moderate amount of protein like fish or lean meat.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
Many people may have diabetes but may be unaware of it. That is because they do not have any symptoms. Some common symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst and dry mouth; frequent urination; increased hunger; unexplained weight loss; fatigue; sores that take a long time to heal and blurred vision.
Of course in order to confirm that you do actually have diabetes, you will need to go visit your clinic and discuss further with a health professional. The health professional will guide you on what you need to do including any tests that may be needed.
The bottom line
For those who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it is important to know what these risks are and that you start taking bold steps in taking charge of your health. You have the power to prevent or lower your risk by the lifestyle choices that you make every single day. Become familiar with the symptoms and don’t be scared to come forward to get help – remember that early diagnosis can make a significant difference to your health outcome.
For those living with diabetes, you need to improve self-care by seeking the correct information that is backed by evidence. Source out the required medications and tools that can help you achieve good blood glucose control and help delay or prevent complications.
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Yours in health
The E4OH Team