Your type 2 diabetes prevention plan
In the UK, an estimated 4.5 million of us have diabetes, and the vast majority have type 2. Type 1 diabetes, which is less common, occurs when your pancreas can’t produce any insulin – the hormone that helps your cells use the glucose for energy – due to an autoimmune response. It’s most common in childhood, but can develop at any age. There are a range of other types of diabetes, including maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), which is caused by a gene mutation. These types are rare but all can lead to very serious health complications if you don’t manage them.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is linked to lifestyle and usually starts in adulthood. In this form, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it doesn’t work properly, leaving high levels of glucose in your bloodstream. Worryingly, an estimated 1 million of those with type 2 diabetes don’t realise that they’re affected. It’s possible to have had it for a decade by the time it is diagnosed. Unfortunately, if type 2 diabetes is undiagnosed or poorly managed, the high levels of glucose circulating in your blood can cause damage to your organs. This can lead to complications such as heart disease and kidney and eye damage. Type 2 diabetes also shares risk factors, such as being overweight, with certain forms of cancer, including breast cancer.
Know the signs
It’s important to be aware of the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes because of the risk of serious complications. If you know you have it, you can start treating it, usually with a mix of lifestyle changes and medicine, to manage blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) levels and avoid the complications. Symptoms include fatigue, increased thirst, blurred vision, slow healing of wounds and increased need to urinate, particularly at night. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP. Your risk is also increased if a close family member has type 2 diabetes.
Can you reverse diabetes?
Emerging evidence suggests some people can put type 2 diabetes into remission through a very low-calorie diet or weight-loss surgery. These interventions both need the support of healthcare professionals. We also don’t yet know whether blood glucose levels rise again in the future in people who manage to reverse type 2 diabetes, but we are funding research into whether low-calorie diets can put it into remission long term. It’s important for people with type 2 diabetes to continue to get their diabetes health checks, even in remission.
Reduce your type 2 diabetes risk
Of course, it’s best to take every step to avoid developing diabetes in the first place. Currently, 11.9 million people are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, but these people can still reduce their blood glucose levels and avoid going on to develop it. Even in the increased risk category, in three out of five cases type 2 diabetes can be prevented or at least delayed. The best way to reduce your type 2 diabetes risk is to lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight, which reduces your chances of developing other serious diseases as well. The following advice will help:
WHITTLE YOUR WAIST Being overweight or obese is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Fat around the middle is particularly dangerous as it can build up around the internal organs, including the pancreas and liver, and reduces your sensitivity to insulin. Take steps to reduce your weight overall – the best way is to make small, manageable changes, such as monitoring portion sizes.
HAVE A HEALTHY DIET Sugar doesn’t directly cause type 2 diabetes. However, as sugary foods and drinks are high in calories, they can lead to weight gain. This is why it’s best to keep sweet things for a treat. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains such as oats, and lean protein, like fish and tofu.
WORK IT OUT Exercise is important for helping to control your weight. It also reduces your risk by making your cells more efficient at using insulin. Do whatever you enjoy and can stick to. It may be a good idea to set small goals for yourself. For example, aim to take a brisk walk on your lunch break every day for a week. Reward yourself when you’ve ticked that off, then set another goal. Lots of people find having an exercise buddy can help.
For more information on preventing type 2 diabetes, visit diabetes.org.uk