Diabetes mellitus: an unpredictable threat with disastrous consequences

Article

22. 09. 2020

Diabetes mellitus, often just referred to as diabetes is characterised by high levels of glucose in the blood, and it is one of the most prevalent lifestyle diseases in our society. Carbohydrate metabolism affects the entirety of our population, regardless of age or gender. Contrary to popular belief, one of the biggest risk factors for developing diabetes is having a genetic predisposition and a high-stress lifestyle, rather than excess consumption of confectionaries. Even though it doesn’t cause any physical pain, untreated diabetes can cause irreversible damage to your health- nerve damage, vascular issues and retinopathy (eye damage). Never underestimate the importance of a preventive health check.

To retain normal function, our organism needs an adequate energy intake that we acquire through from our diet. Our cells can only absorb the sugar (glucose) that is present in our blood after a meal with the help of a hormone called insulin that gets produced in our pancreas. If you don’t have diabetes, your pancreas senses when glucose has entered your bloodstream and releases the right amount of insulin, so the glucose can get into your cells. But if you have diabetes, this system doesn’t work and your body can’t make use of the potential energy available, meaning the concentration of sugar in your blood stays high. Diabetes can be diagnosed using a blood test, where the blood glucose to exceed a level of 7,1mmol/L.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed during childhood or puberty. The pancreas produces little or no insulin meaning that glucose cannot be taken up by the cells and they concentrate in the blood circulation leading to very rapid weight loss. The most common symptoms include heightened thirst and dysuria (frequent urination). Genetic predisposition and exposure to viruses and other environmental factors are to blame for the development of this disease. Diabetes type 1 is managed through the injection of insulin 3-6 times a day. If the blood sugar range is inconsistent, an insulin pump is a preferred option.

Type 2 diabetes more commonly affects individuals with a poor lifestyle (overweight, obesity, stress, overeating, calorie-heavy diet, inactive lifestyle), and the factor that sets it apart from the aforementioned type is that the pancreas still produces insulin, however the cells are resistant to its effects. For a long time this diagnosis was mainly reserved for the elderly, however in the last decade it has increased in prevalence among the younger population. Treatment includes oral antidiabetic medication incl. glinides, biguanides, thiazolidinediones, incretins, etc. With obese individuals, treatment consists of weight reduction and dietary changes. Reduced insulin sensitivity can also occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome that causes irregular menstruation, ovulation and a hormonal imbalance, in particular testosterone.

Diabetes can also affect pregnant women, this increase in blood sugars is however usually temporary, within the first couple of weeks after giving birth, the blood glucose levels begin to return to normal. Gestational diabetes usually becomes a complication for women above 30 years of age, mothers to be with a higher BMI or a family history of diabetes. Treatment includes following a diet, medication or insulin injection depending on the severity of the condition. The infant is usually born with a higher birth weight and the course of new-born jaundice can have more complications than normal.

What are the essentials of a diabetic diet?

When talking about a diabetic diet, we put a lot of emphasis on limiting the intake of refined sugars which is found in the obvious such as sweets and lemonades, but also in more unexpected places such as alcohol. It’s recommended to have regular meals (3-5x per day), get plenty of fibre, vitamins and minerals. A diabetic diet should include lean meat, fish, quality whole grains, vegetables and fruits (but slightly more limited). You should pay attention to excessive protein consumption as that can put a strain on the kidneys. Special DIA products are recommended. Insulin sensitivity is increased by regular physical activity, which can also help reduce sugar levels and convert fat into muscle mass.

What are the signs you may have diabetes?

Common symptoms include insatiable thirst as well as frequent urination, drowsiness, fatigue, yeast infections and periodontitis. The skin can be affected by itchy rashes or skin infections, and some experience tingling of the limbs. While type 1 diabetes causes rapid weight loss, intense hunger, nausea and fainting spells which can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, otherwise known as a diabetic coma, type 2 diabetes creeps into the life of a patient inconspicuously, sometimes unnoticed for many years and presents itself very subtly through blurry vision, urinary tract infections and some skin changes.

A diabetes diagnosis should not be taken lightly, as the complications caused by prolonged, untreated hyperglycaemia are unpleasant and lifechanging. The risk of heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis, nerve and vision damage (glaucoma, cataracts) is increased. Ulcers and neuropathies are also a common occurrence that when left untreated can lead to diabetic foot that can ultimately  end with limb amputation.

In addition to adhering to treatment, a patient with diabetes should regularly check their blood sugar levels with a glucometer. The skin on the finger is pricked with a special needle and a small sample of blood is collected from the fingertip. The value from the glucometer is recorded over the course of time and this data helps a diabetologist determine the effectiveness of treatment and the patients control over their blood sugar levels. In addition to this, a patient with diabetes can also use this method to quickly determine whether they are in acute hyper or hypoglycaemia. For type 1 diabetics, special monitors are used that can be placed under the skin.

 

How to win the fight against diabetes ?

  • Choose low-fat dairy options
  • Use less salt when cooking, season dishes with herbs and spices
  • Limit the amount of foods that you fry or bake, try to steam and stew instead.
  • Give up smoking, reduce your consumption of calorific alcohol and energy drinks that are full of sugars and sweeteners.
  • Vitamin D is a good friend of insulin. Sunlight and fish are your allies.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5x per week, you’ll see the results very quickly.

If you’ve missed a preventive check up with your GP or if you have been experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned about, don’t wait to book your appointment.

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