Is diabetes in your future?
Diabetes is a disorder that results in elevated blood sugar in the bloodstream due to defective control mechanisms. The Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) reveals the prevalence of the disease has doubled since 1996, and it is estimated that this silent epidemic will affect more than 3.3 million Australians by 2031. Experts also raise concerns that some population groups are at far greater risk, namely indigenous Australians, Australians living in rural and remote areas, and Australians in areas of lower socioeconomic status.
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 usually affects children and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce sufficient insulin due to damage of the pancreatic cells by the body’s own immune system. Type 2 is by far the most common form of diabetes. It is strongly associated with being overweight and a lack of physical activity.
Testing for symptoms
Common symptoms of diabetes include: excessive thirst, frequent urination, feeling tired and lethargic, slow wound healing, itchy skin, topical infections, blurred vision, weight gain and mood swings. Secondary health complications due to diabetes are serious. Over time, diabetes greatly increases the risk of nerve and blood vessel damage. This can result in cardiovascular disorders, eye and kidney diseases, limb amputations and erectile dysfunction in men.
You may be unaware you have type 2 diabetes if there is a lack of obvious symptoms. A simple blood test taken before you eat in the morning can establish your fasting blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor about testing your blood sugar levels. Better blood sugar metabolism helps prevent diabetes. Ideally, your blood sugar levels should be kept as close to the normal range as possible. This also reduces your risk of diabetic complications when you have diabetes.
Individuals with diabetes are often given medications, including insulin, to help control their blood sugar levels. Most are in the form of tablets, but some are given by injection. All people with diabetes need to check their blood sugar concentrations on a regular basis. When taking medication, you may need to check your blood sugar more often to ensure the medication is having the desired effect.
The threat of insulin resistance
Insulin is a specialised hormone supplied by the pancreas, an endocrine gland found below the stomach. Insulin plays a vital role in opening the channels to allow blood sugar to move from the bloodstream into the cells where energy is made. This process is called blood sugar metabolism. In diabetes, the pancreas either cannot make sufficient insulin or the insulin cannot work effectively to maintain healthy blood sugar metabolism.
Insulin resistance develops when your body does not use the hormone insulin as well as it should, especially in the muscles and liver. This means insulin is ineffective in moving blood sugar into the cells for energy. Your cells become starved of energy despite a plentiful fuel supply. This disorder is also known as metabolic syndrome or syndrome X. Insulin resistance syndrome undoubtedly increases your diabetes risk. This is considered a pre-diabetic state, although the situation has not yet reached a crisis point where a diabetes diagnosis can be made.
Insulin resistance syndrome is not a disease in itself but a cluster of disorders that occur together. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) recently published a new definition: This condition is strongly associated with central obesity, often called belly fat, along with any two of the following indicators; a raised triglyceride level (a type of fat in the blood); a low level of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol; high blood pressure or an increased blood sugar level after a period of fasting; or have been previously diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Why is too much belly fat a risk factor for diabetes? Visceral fat is the type of fat stored within the abdomen that surrounds the vital internal organs. According to a study in Obesity, it is dangerously active, producing chemicals that disrupt normal energy metabolism. A trim waistline is a good indicator that you don’t have a large build-up of visceral fat. There is no doubt keeping yourself in good shape cuts diabetes risk. If you are concerned about insulin resistance, it is important to manage your blood sugar levels in consultation with your health practitioner.
The slow secret
Sir Isaac Newton famously said, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. The ‘slow food’ movement actively counteracts the fast food culture. Carlo Petrini, an Italian food and wine journalist, founded the slow food movement in Rome in 1986, because he was increasingly concerned that processed fast food was eroding a way of life that celebrated the production and enjoyment of quality local food. For him, the opening of a McDonalds on the monumental steps leading up from the Piazza di Spagna in Rome was the final straw.
Since its inception, this organisation has evolved into a global movement with members in 132 countries. Many form convivia, or branches to raise community awareness and celebrate food that is good, clean and fair. To find a convivia near you, visit http://www.slowfood.com/. Slow food advocates raise valid concerns regarding the erosion of local food traditions, the declining quality of our food supply due to globalisation, and how our everyday food choices impact on the planet. There is little doubt the consumption of energy-rich foods together with a reduction in physical activity leads to many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Could taking time to enjoy good, clean slow food be the answer to the growing epidemic of diabetes?
Are you at risk?
These health factors and genetics determine your risk - the more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing diabetes.
* I smoke
* I am over 45 and have raised blood pressure
* I am over 45 and am overweight or obese
* I am over 45 and one or more of my family has diabetes
* I am over 55
* I have borderline high blood sugar levels (BSL)
* I have heart disease or have had a heart attack
* I had raised blood sugar levels while pregnant (gestational diabetes)
* I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
* I am over 18 and an indigenous Australian or Pacific Islander
* I am over 18 and have a Chinese or Indian cultural background
* I am over 18 and a Native American, Hispanic American or African American
While you cannot change your age or cultural background, it is possible to lose weight, establish better eating habits, and quit smoking. Also reduce alcohol which is strongly linked to being overweight. The current official guidelines are set too high for optimal health. Abstain completely or reserve a tipple for joyous occasions.
Turn off the telly
Limit television viewing, video gaming, and computer use to improve blood sugar control. Emerging research proves a strong association between sedentary behaviours, especially prolonged television viewing, and a significantly elevated risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. For women, watching television results in increased calorie intake as they tend to eat at the same time.
Those who spend more time watching television also tend to follow unhealthy eating patterns. Eating habits could be directly related to advertisements and food ‘cues’ appearing on television programs. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes diabetes prevention can be improved by adopting an active lifestyle with less than 10 hours per week of TV viewing and more than 30 minutes a day of brisk walking.
Cravings for sugary foods are hard to ignore. While a small amount of fructose is found naturally in fruit, it is now also added to many food items, including processed foods, baby food, nutritional supplements, and beverages. While lactose intolerance is well known, fructose intolerance is only just beginning to be recognised. Emerging studies link fructose to digestive disorders. Fructose intolerance can cause bloating and diarrhoea. These symptoms are often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In the future, food manufacturers could face demand for fructose-free products, says a study in Ailment Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased dramatically in the past two decades. A review of studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition strongly links high calorie carbonated soft drinks with greater weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Now, for the first time, a study in Diabetes Care has found that drinking more than five sugar-laden cola drinks per week significantly increases the chances of developing diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a short-term form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It is one of the most common pregnancy complications. Women with this condition are at increased risk of illness throughout their pregnancy, labour is often more difficult due to the higher birth weight of the baby, and their risk of developing post-pregnancy diabetes is raised.
The researchers investigated 13,475 women. During 10 years of follow up, women who consumed a higher amount of cola drinks had a 22 per cent greater incidence of developing gestational diabetes. Clearly, avoiding sugary cola drinks during pregnancy is a good idea. This includes eliminating diet soft drinks. There is a misconception that sugar-free diet soft drinks are a better option. In fact, research suggests that the artificial sweeteners they contain are linked to weight gain, a risk factor for diabetes. Healthier options during pregnancy include filtered water, fresh juices and herbal teas.
Interestingly, your genes ‘remember’ a sugar hit. New Australian research spotlights the dramatic and surprisingly long-lasting effects sugary foods have on our genes. A study in The Journal of Experimental Medicine reveals a one-off sugar hit damages controls regulating our genes for two weeks. What’s more, prolonged poor eating habits could permanently alter DNA expression, increasing diabetes risk. The study confirms that damage from unhealthy eating is ‘remembered’ in genetic controls, called epigenetics. In contrast: “There is also good epigenetic memory for individuals who have a good diet, not only for themselves but potentially for future generations,” study author Professor El-Osta says.
Louise O'Connor is a leading naturopath who writes and educates on women’s natural health. http://www.healthy-hormone-balance.com/