WHAT IS DIABETES? UNDERSTANDING THIS CHRONIC CONDITION
Diabetes is a complex and potentially deadly disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It all begins with the glucose, or sugar, in the food we eat, which is the primary source of energy for our bodies. Our pancreas produces insulin, a vital hormone responsible for converting glucose into energy. But what happens when this process goes awry? Enter diabetes.
This disease occurs when the body can no longer convert glucose into usable energy because the pancreas either stops producing insulin altogether or produces it in insufficient amounts. This can happen to anyone, regardless of age or lifestyle. Even if you don't consume sugary foods like candy or soda, you could still be at risk if you consume bread, cereal, dairy products, and vegetables. These seemingly healthy foods are also sources of glucose that can lead to diabetes if the body is unable to convert them into energy.
People with diabetes face many challenges, including high blood glucose levels, or hyperglycaemia. This condition can cause both short-term and long-term health problems, including blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and even amputations. Sadly, diabetes is a leading cause of death worldwide, with tens of thousands of people dying from the disease each year.
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. While type 1 is less common, it can affect anyone at any age. Type 2 diabetes is generally associated with adults, but increasingly, children and adolescents are also being diagnosed with this condition. Regardless of the type, diabetes is a serious and growing problem worldwide.
Diabetes is a serious condition that can cause major health problems if left untreated. Unfortunately, it's sometimes referred to as the "silent killer" because symptoms can be mild or even nonexistent for years before leading to severe complications.
If you have diabetes, you may experience symptoms such as extreme hunger, thirst, unexplained weight gain or loss, excessive urination, or constant exhaustion. Numbness and tingling in your hands or feet, as well as changes in your vision, are also serious symptoms that require urgent attention to prevent blindness or amputation.
To diagnose diabetes, it's crucial to consult a doctor who can perform tests to measure your blood sugar levels. There are several tests available, including the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG), which checks your blood sugar levels after fasting for at least 8 hours, usually done in the morning. The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is another option that measures how your body processes glucose after drinking a special sugary drink. The A1C test, which measures your average blood glucose levels over a few months, and the random plasma glucose test can also be conducted.
At Full Circle Wellness, our skilled physiologists are equipped to help you manage diabetes and improve your quality of life. Don't wait until it's too late—take control of your health and seek medical attention if you suspect you have diabetes.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes: Understanding this Autoimmune Disease
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects approximately 5% of people with diabetes. It was once called juvenile diabetes because it is often diagnosed in children and adolescents. Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is primarily associated with lifestyle factors, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects the body's ability to produce insulin.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. This means that people with type 1 diabetes require manual insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump to survive. The condition also makes managing blood sugar levels a delicate balancing act, with individuals needing to calculate their insulin doses based on activity levels and food consumption to avoid hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels.
While the exact cause of type 1 diabetes remains unknown, scientists have identified family history as a significant risk factor. Other potential triggers, such as viral infections or environmental factors, may also play a role in the recent rise of type 1 diabetes cases.
If you or a loved one has type 1 diabetes, it's essential to work with a healthcare team that specializes in managing this autoimmune disease. With the right support and treatment, individuals with type 1 diabetes can lead fulfilling lives while effectively managing their condition.
Type 2 Diabetes: The Most Common Form of Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent form of diabetes worldwide, with an increasing number of cases being diagnosed even in teenagers and children. Though typically diagnosed in middle-aged or older adults, individuals of any age can develop type 2 diabetes.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, people with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, but either not enough or the body is unable to use it effectively. This results in insulin resistance, where the pancreas initially produces extra insulin to compensate but eventually cannot produce enough to regulate blood sugar levels properly. While some people with type 2 diabetes need insulin injections, there is a broader range of treatment options compared to type 1. Many can manage their condition by making lifestyle changes such as exercising more, losing weight, and improving their diet. Others may take medication to lower blood sugar levels or stimulate insulin production.
Like type 1, type 2 diabetes is a chronic, long-term disease with a genetic risk factor, including family history. However, type 2 diabetes is also largely preventable and manageable with early intervention, making it possible to reverse the condition entirely. Prediabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, is an early warning sign that can be detected through regular screening and addressed with lifestyle changes.
If you or someone you know has type 2 diabetes, it's crucial to work with a healthcare team to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the condition's unique challenges. With early detection, intervention, and ongoing support, individuals with type 2 diabetes can manage their condition and live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Understanding the Warning Signs and Taking Action
Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Though it's not considered a clinical condition or disease, pre-diabetes is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and should be taken as a warning sign to make changes to your lifestyle and diet.
Unfortunately, pre-diabetes is underdiagnosed, with an estimated 90% of Australians affected by the condition unaware of their status. This lack of awareness is concerning, as pre-diabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes within ten years in a significant percentage of people.
Despite the risks, many individuals with pre-diabetes fail to take action to address their condition. However, pre-diabetes is reversible with simple lifestyle changes, making early detection and intervention essential.
Nearly one in three Australian adults are affected by pre-diabetes, making it a prevalent condition that requires attention. If you suspect you may have pre-diabetes or have risk factors such as a family history of diabetes or being overweight, it's crucial to speak with your healthcare provider to undergo screening and discuss steps you can take to manage your risk. By taking proactive steps, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health and well-being.
What You Need to Know for a Healthy Pregnancy
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, typically between weeks 24 and 28. It can occur even if you've never had diabetes before and doesn't necessarily mean you'll continue to have diabetes after giving birth. Though it's often manageable with diet and exercise, some women may require insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels.
While gestational diabetes is common and treatable, it's essential to address the condition promptly. Untreated gestational diabetes can lead to severe health complications for both mother and baby. Women with diabetes are at a higher risk of requiring a C-section delivery due to larger babies with high blood sugar levels, leading to prolonged recovery times for the mother.
Gestational diabetes is also associated with blood pressure issues, including preeclampsia and hypoglycemia. Preeclampsia is a potentially fatal high blood pressure condition that can lead to premature births, strokes, or seizures during labor. Infants can develop hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, shortly after birth if their mother's blood sugar was not adequately controlled.
If you're pregnant or planning to conceive and have risk factors for gestational diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, it's crucial to speak with your healthcare provider about screening and prevention strategies. With early detection and proper management, gestational diabetes can be effectively controlled, promoting a healthy pregnancy and delivery for both mother and baby.
Are You at Risk of Developing Diabetes?
Apart from lifestyle, several factors can increase your risk of developing diabetes, and it’s essential to be aware of them to help your doctor understand your overall risk. Having a family member with diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, has been linked to an increased risk of developing the disease. Different ethnic and racial backgrounds also carry an elevated risk. Australians of African, Asian, Pacific Islander, or indigenous heritage are all statistically at greater risk of developing diabetes.
Older people are also at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and they are often diagnosed after the age of 45. If you are middle-aged or older, have a family history of diabetes, or a personal history of gestational diabetes, it’s essential to monitor your risk and keep a close eye on your blood glucose levels and symptoms to prevent prediabetes before it happens or reverse it before it develops into the disease.
There isn't much you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. Although there are unchangeable risk factors such as age and family background, it is often a combination of these factors with diet and lifestyle that causes type 2 diabetes to develop. By managing your lifestyle, you can prevent type 2 diabetes.
Losing weight is one of the first things a doctor will recommend to prevent diabetes. Overweight and obese people are at higher risk of developing diabetes because extra weight makes your body more resistant to insulin. Losing just 5 or 10 percent of your body weight might be all you need to reduce your risk.
Exercise is a great aid in weight loss, but it also reduces your risk of diabetes even if you maintain the same weight. Multiple studies across the world have demonstrated a profound link between exercise and diabetes risk reduction, with some study groups reducing their risk by as much as 80 percent just by exercising a few hours a week. Exercising for 30 minutes a day is a solid goal for diabetes prevention, and you can start smaller than this if you don’t currently exercise. Do whatever you enjoy doing—it doesn’t have to be the treadmill. Even walking to and from work or school can help boost your health and reduce your risk.
What you eat plays a significant role in preventing or developing diabetes because diabetes involves the body’s failure to process sugar properly. Avoid a high-fat, high-sugar diet and processed foods. Eat fewer calories overall, and try to consume the calories you do eat in smaller portions throughout the day, rather than in large servings all at once, to help your body moderate your glucose intake.
It’s more enjoyable to focus on what to eat than what not to eat. So, here are some recommendations. Go for fresh, whole foods as much as possible (this will also help you avoid processed foods), like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fibre is your friend, so choose whole grains instead of refined grains wherever possible. And if you like vinaigrette salad dressings, you're in luck: one Arizona State University study found that eating about 2 tablespoons of vinegar before a high-carb meal helped keep blood sugar levels low in people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. So if you're going to eat something high in carbohydrates like pasta, try eating a salad first to lower your risk. Our team of dieticians and nutritionists can help you create an easy-to-follow meal plan – book an appointment today if you feel you need professional help.
It's no secret that alcohol and cigarettes are health hazards, and this holds true for diabetes. Quitting smoking and moderating your alcohol intake will help you prevent diabetes.
Myths & Facts About Diabetes
Although diabetes is a common disease, there are still many myths about it that persist. Let’s clear some of them up now.
Myth: Diabetes is just “a touch of sugar”. It’s not a big deal.
Fact: Diabetes kills one person every six seconds and kills more people across the world than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. It is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and nervous system damage. Diabetes in any form is a deadly disease and should be taken seriously.
Myth: Overweight people always develop type 2 diabetes.
Fact: Though obesity does increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, many factors come into play. Most overweight people never develop diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are only slightly overweight or at a completely normal weight. Losing weight can be an important tool in reducing your risk of developing diabetes or managing it once it develops, but focusing only on weight can lead you to neglect other risk factors like diet, lifestyle, and family history.
Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating sugar.
Fact: While there is a correlation between diabetes and high-calorie, high-sugar diets, there’s no evidence that sugar causes diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is generally caused by a combination of weight, diet, lifestyle, and genetics, not by diet alone.
Myth: Diabetics can only eat special “diabetes food”.
Fact: Diabetics just need to eat healthy food – just like anyone else should! People with diabetes should eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and steer clear of fats, sugars, and red meats. While there is a market for special “diabetic” foods, they can be expensive and may not be right for your specific condition.
Myth: If you have diabetes, you can’t eat high-carb foods like pasta or bread.
Fact: Diabetics can still eat bread, cereal, and pasta, and other starchy foods like rice and potatoes. But it’s important to watch your portion sizes to moderate your carbohydrate intake. Your doctor or nutritionist can help you figure out the right amount of carbohydrates for your individual health needs.
Myth: If you have diabetes, you can’t eat dessert.
Fact: Desserts are fine in moderation, especially when combined with exercise and an otherwise healthy diet. It’s true that diabetics do need to be extra careful about their blood glucose levels and sugar consumption. Awareness is key, and diabetics can eat desserts when they are conscious of their portions and their insulin intake.
Myth: If you need to use insulin with type 2 diabetes, it’s because you’re not taking care of yourself properly.
Fact: Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease that often has no symptoms for quite a long time, so many people aren’t diagnosed until type 2 diabetes has already become a major problem. Many people are able to manage their type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise alone, but for others, insulin and other oral medications are necessary to keep blood sugar at safe and healthy levels.
Myth: Fruit is health food, so diabetics can eat as much fruit as they want.
Fact: While fruits are healthy and full of vitamins and minerals, they are also rich in sugars, or carbohydrates, and can raise blood sugar levels. Diabetics should include fruits in their diets, but in moderate amounts that are appropriate for their medical condition. Your doctor and nutritionist can help you come up with a meal plan that includes the right amounts and kinds of fruits (and other carbohydrates) for you.
Diabetes in Australia
The prevalence of diabetes in Australia has reached epidemic proportions, with no signs of abating. Research shows that there are currently 1.7 million Australians living with diabetes, and over 100,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, equating to one new diabetic every five minutes. The total healthcare cost of diabetes in Australia is estimated to be almost $15 billion annually, and this figure doubles when taking into account the impact on family members and caregivers.
Diabetes-related complications, such as blindness and sight problems, are also on the rise in Australia. Approximately three out of every five Australian diabetics are estimated to experience poor eyesight, with diabetic retinopathy affecting another 72,000 people. It is currently the leading cause of preventable blindness in Australia.
Moreover, diabetic Australians aren’t just losing their sight, they are also losing their arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Every year, doctors in Australia perform more than 4,400 diabetes-related amputations. Many of these are the result of ulcers and wounds, which represent 10,000 hospital admissions per year. These unfortunate amputations are the best-case scenario when the disease progresses this far because thousands of more people die from such injuries.
All forms of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, are increasing at a faster rate than other chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. The alarming increase in diagnoses is a cause for concern and highlights the importance of preventative measures and early diagnosis.
Diabetes is a growing global epidemic that affects people of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The rise of diabetes is not specific to Australia – the global rate of diabetes has risen by nearly half in the last 20 years, and continues to rise. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 463 million adults (20-79 years) were living with diabetes in 2019, and this number is expected to rise to 700 million by 2045.
Diabetes has been increasingly prevalent in rich countries, parallel to the rise in obesity, but poorer developing nations have also seen prominent rises, with China, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico being examples. Nearly all of these new cases are type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to obesity. Diabetes currently affects a similar number of people in the United States and China, for example.
Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, and it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, and lower-limb amputation. Diabetes disproportionately affects vulnerable and marginalized populations, including Indigenous peoples, people living in poverty, and refugees. The economic burden of diabetes is significant, with an estimated global cost of $760 billion in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity in 2019.
These numbers show no signs of slowing down. The WHO estimates that this global epidemic of diabetes will continue to rise even if obesity levels do not. They predict that the total number of people living with diabetes will rise to 366 million in 2030, and warn that this may even be an underestimate, as sedentary lifestyles become increasingly common, and access to cheap processed food abounds.
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