The Sweetest Life (but without the diabetes)Article
08. 06. 2021 Endocrinology and diabetology
“You have diabetes” … just hearing those words can stir up panic in a newly diagnosed patient. Will I have to change my diet and lifestyle? Will I be have to monitor my own blood sugar, will I be able to live a happy and fulfilling life? Endless questions, and fear that that life will never be the same again… these thoughts and feelings are all very understandable and normal, and you can rest easy that you are not the only one.
Decades ago, diabetes mellitus (type II diabetes) was considered a fatal disease. Fortunately, the field of medicine has advanced considerably since then, and nowadays, with optimal treatment, medical supervision and proper lifestyle adjustments, even type 1 diabetes can be managed in a way that allows the patient to lead a near-normal life.
Diabetes is a widespread disease worldwide, and the number of newly diagnosed patients is increasing every year. In the Czech Republic alone, over a million people suffer from diabetes. One of the key contributing factors is increasing life expectancy and a change in lifestyle, not only in developed countries, but increasingly also in developing countries. The treacherous thing about diabetes is that it often hides un-diagnosed for several years because the early stages are asymptomatic. Many diabetics enjoy chocolate or alcohol daily without knowing that they are feeding their disease.
Signals from the body that should not be overlooked
Diabetes is a condition caused by a reduced production or complete absence of insulin; a hormone whose role is to keep our blood sugar levels within a healthy range. We can distinguish between two basic types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, usually presenting in children or young adults and is caused by a poorly functioning pancreas. Just over five percent of patients in our population suffer from type 1 diabetes, while the vast majority of diabetics (93%) suffer from type II diabetes, which mostly affects middle-aged and older people with lifestyle and genetics playing a major contributing role.
"Early diagnosis of type II diabetes is essential in its treatment," emphasises Dr. Vladimír Marek, general practitioner for adults and chief physician at Canadian Medical clinic in Brno. He adds: “Knowing your diagnosis and the risks associated definitely helps you to live a more comfortable and healthy life. While type 1 diabetics cannot avoid insulin therapy; diet, antidiabetic medication, and adherence to some important lifestyle principles are sufficient to treat type 2 diabetes in the early stages.”
The most common early symptoms of the disease include excessive thirst (polydipsia) and frequent urination (polyuria). Rapid weight loss and intense fatigue can also be a sign. A sedentary lifestyle, long-term stress and a poor diet can make a significant contribution to type 2 diabetes. "Assessing the blood sugar levels is a necessary part of a preventive examination at the age of 18, 30 and 40 and then every two years after that. A patient with low risk of complications can be routinely treated by their GP. If the course of the disease is more serious or the patient requires insulin, they should be under the care of a specialist diabetologist, "adds Dr. Vladimír Marek.
A strict diet may not be necessary
A person with diabetes type 1 can adjust their insulin injections/therapy according to the amount of carbohydrate that they consume within a meal, and therefore their diet doesn’t have to be different to that of a regular healthy person. Of course, having a varied and balanced diet is still important.
Type 2 diabetics are not advised to consume sugar and foods containing sugar, also known as fast-acting carbohydrates. Most patients with diabetes tend to be overweight, so it is necessary to limit fat intake to maintain or reduce body size. On the contrary, it is appropriate to increase the protein and fibre content of the diet. The diet should be adjusted not only with regards to the nutritional recommendations, but also according to a person's own preferences. "I often see patients who manage to reduce their blood sugar levels from a 15 to an 8 within a couple of weeks of altered diet. Exercise also plays a crucial role in blood sugar control. But what I do not recommend is complete starvation or a drastic and unsustainable diet. They do not benefit our health at all, and as a result they only cause unnecessary stress and yo-yo effect, "warns Dr. Marek.
Getting enough physical activity is also crucial for a more comfortable and fulfilling life with diabetes, and can even play a role in reversing the diagnosis of type II. It is not necessary to spend your whole days in the gym, but regular exercise has an irreplaceable therapeutic effect for diabetics. The same rule applies here as in the case of eating - everyone should choose a physical activity that they enjoy. Due to the small load on the musculoskeletal system, swimming is a highly suitable option.
It is advisable to consult a doctor about the intensity of exercise and physical activity. "I recommend choosing an activity based on the age and weight of the patient. The body benefits from aerobic exercise such as cycling, women often tend to lean more towards aerobics, older people are recommended to go on walks or try nordic walking. Regular and long-term movement is essential, "adds Dr. Vladimír Marek from Canadian Medical – Brno clinic.
Above all, every diabetic should understand that the quality of their life is highly dependent on how much responsibility they take for their own health. The effectiveness of prescribed medication can only do so much. Even though diabetes is a serious disease that brings certain limitations, it is possible to live a full life with it, as long as the patient is compliant and willing.