November 14th is officially World Diabetes Day, so to mark the occasion we’re inviting you to assess whether you have any risk factors.
Diabetes affects 8.5% of the global population and over 30 million Americans according to the World Health Organization and CDC. An even greater number are at risk, with an additional 84 million having prediabetes which often leads to diabetes within 5 years if untreated.
World Diabetes Day is the perfect opportunity for everyone to look at their own risk factors and take positive steps to prevent its development. In this article, we summarize the essential info, tell you how to assess your own risk, and answer common questions people have.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes affects the production or usage of insulin within the body. Insulin is a hormone that controls how the glucose from carbohydrates is metabolized and turned into energy. Glucose is an essential fuel source for many parts of the body, including skeletal muscle and the brain. So, if the body can’t control its fuel supply it can have serious consequences for your health.
There are three types of diabetes; type 1, type 2, and gestational. Here are the key differences between them:
- Type 1 Diabetes – the body doesn’t produce insulin correctly so daily injections are required. The cause is unknown and the condition is currently unpreventable.
- Type 2 Diabetes – the body can produce insulin but either doesn’t do it effectively or use it efficiently. Common causes include being overweight or physically inactive, which means it is largely preventable.
- Gestational Diabetes – can occur in women during pregnancy and increases the risk of complications as well as developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Type 2 diabetes affects the greatest number of people but is also avoidable. It’s thought that 80% of type 2 cases could be prevented by a change in lifestyle. But why is having diabetes such as serious health issue?
How does it affect your health?
When you eat carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, and cereal, your body breaks them down into their simplest building blocks: glucose. Your body uses this as energy to power movement, breathing, and even thinking. In order for your cells to absorb the glucose, they need a little help from insulin. Without this hormone, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being used by the cells.
In people with type 2 diabetes, the body either stops producing sufficient insulin or doesn’t process it in the right way. This means that blood glucose (aka blood sugar) levels rise and your body works even harder to produce insulin to meet demand. But either the insulin doesn’t work or the manufacturing process stops so that the body can’t cope with all the glucose in its system.
This doesn’t happen overnight and is usually a slow process that builds up over time. High glucose levels can damage blood vessels, affecting the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health consequences such as;
- Heart attacks and strokes – diabetes sufferers have 2-3 times increased risk
- Limb amputation – caused by infection due to reduced blood flow and nerve damage
- Blindness – as blood vessels around the retina become damaged
- Kidney failure – diabetes is the leading cause
Suffering from type 2 diabetes can shorten life expectancy by around 10 years on average but lifestyle changes can lead to dramatic improvements. People who are diagnosed will usually be put on a management plan that includes healthy eating, regular exercise, and blood sugar monitoring. They may also have to take medication that helps to control their blood sugar. At this point, you’ll have no option but to make healthy lifestyle changes quickly such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
type 2 diabetes risk factors
When it comes to type 2 diabetes, there are certain risk factors that make some people more susceptible than others. Here are a few examples:
Being overweight or obese
If you’re overweight or obese, you’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is because your cells become more insulin resistant as the amount of fatty tissue increases.
Being aged over 40
Type 2 diabetes usually appears after age 40. This is most likely because people become less physically active and heavier as they age.
If you have a relative who suffers from diabetes, you’ll be more likely to develop it yourself. This is usually a close relative such as a parent or sibling.
People who have an Asian, Hispanic, or African American heritage are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. However, it’s still unclear exactly why this is.
Are you suffering from type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes often develops over a long period of time which means the symptoms creep up without people noticing. Here are some of the key ones to look out for;
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Unexpected weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections
- Areas of darkened skin
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, then it’s worth getting checked over by your doctor. There’s also an online tool you can use to assess your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It’ll highlight whether you have a high risk so that you can make proactive changes before it develops.
How to reverse type 2 diabetes – Is it possible?
So, how to reverse type 2 diabetes? The good news is, there are lots of steps you can take to reduce the health risks associated with the condition. Recent studies have even shown that type 2 diabetes can be completely reversed by eating certain types of diet. Although they aren’t yet recommended by the mainstream medical community, it’s a promising result that highlights the power of healthy eating. Here are some practical ways to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes;
1 – Maintain a healthy weight – if you’re overweight, reducing your BMI to the healthy range (18.5-24.9) will reduce your risk 7-fold. If you’re obese and do this, then your risk is reduced 20-40-fold!
2 – Get active – 30mins of brisk walking per day can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30%. It not only helps with weight maintenance but improves your muscles’ ability to absorb glucose.
3 – Eat whole grains – like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. They contain more fiber and digest slower, which means you don’t get big spikes in glucose which stress out insulin production. People who eat 2-3 servings per day are 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who eat less healthy alternatives.
4 – Skip sugary drinks – soda, pre-packed fruit juices, and even syrup-filled coffee can all spike your glucose and strain your insulin production. Research has shown that just one sugary drink a day almost doubles your diabetes risk, so cut them out altogether and choose sugar free drinks instead.
5 – Ditch processed meat – just one serving of bacon or a hot dog each day can increase your diabetes risk by half. However, swapping red or processed meat for nuts, fish, or poultry can decrease your risk by 35%!
You can reduce (or reverse) your type 2 diabetes risk!
For more practical steps that are scientifically proven to work, check out this article by Harvard University. Combining these healthy lifestyle changes will help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health.
Your risk of other chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease will also decrease, plus you’ll feel much better in your everyday life.
Have you tried the diabetes risk assessment tool? Let us know how you get on in the comments below.