World Diabetes Day

This Friday is World Diabetes Day, a timely reminder of this most devastating of diseases.

As the world’s waistlines grow, the burden of diabetes does too. We’ve all heard the stats, but if you’re anything like me, these numbers are quoted so often that they start to go in one ear and out of the other (the same goes for obesity stats actually). Take a look at the diabetes UK website or the NHS choices diabetes section for some of the latest figures (and a great deal besides that), but for now, let’s just concentrate on the basics. Halloween may have been and gone, but these facts make for scary reading:

  • The number of diabetes patients in the UK has more or less doubled since 1996. 
  • It is predicted that this number will be not far off doubling again in the next 10-15 years, to around 5 million. 
  • Somewhere between one in five and one in four of those affected don’t even know it. 
  • Treating diabetes and its complications accounts for a massive 10% of the total NHS budget.

There are plenty of different types of diabetes, including gestational, steroid-induced (see last week’s blog), type 1, and diabetes insipidus, but type 2 is easily the most well known and most prevalent. Type 2 used to be loosely termed ‘adult-onset’, but this label has disappeared in recent years, as the age of those developing the condition gets ever younger.

It is a progressive disease. In other words, it tends to get worse over time. And why does this matter? Well, it leads to damage to our ‘microvascular architecture’ (our small blood vessels), which can, in turn, lead to this terrifying trio:

  • Neuropathy – this is mainly in the form of damage to the peripheral nervous system, and often results in amputations.
  • Retinopathy – damage to the retina in the eye – which is why diabetes is such a major cause of blindness.
  • Nephropathy – damage to the tubules (nephrons) of the kidney – resulting in chronic renal conditions. 

But lifestyle, and diet in particular, can make a huge difference to the prevention – and progression – of type 2 diabetes.  I haven’t even mentioned the word ‘sugar’ yet in this article, but of course, blood sugar is what this is all about.

The dietary advice to maintain good blood glucose control is actually pretty straightforward stuff, and much the same as that required for weight control – hardly surprising since weight loss is such a key factor in controlling the condition. In a nutshell, the diet should be kept balanced, with adaptations made to limit fat, salt and sugar. Fibre should be boosted where possible, fruit and vegetable intake maximised, and meal patterns (and intake of starchy, low GI carbohydrates) kept regular and well spaced.

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