Around 3.2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes, and it’s estimated that 5 million of us will have it by 2025.
This is partly due to type 1 diabetes – a deficiency disorder where the body is unable to produce insulin (the hormone that controls blood glucose). However 90 per cent of these people have type 2 diabetes, which has become a huge global health issue.
In type 2, the body is able to produce insulin but it is unable to use it so levels of glucose in the blood rise. The good news is that type 2 is preventable and actually reversible. The key is to encourage your body to use insulin more effectively and the way to do that is by changing your lifestyle.
Fast food nation
Over the past 30 years, we’ve become progressively less healthy. Back then, there were hardly any fast food restaurants or coffee shops selling high-calorie lattes and pastries on the high street, unlike today. Now we have ready access at a fairly low cost to high calorie, sugary food. We’re more sedentary as a nation and we use the car far too much – one car journey in five is for a distance of less than one mile.
It’s not surprising our population has got fatter. Fat accumulates in the liver and pancreas, which are pivotal to how insulin works. This makes it harder for the body to use insulin to take glucose from the blood and into the body’s cells. And the increase in sugar overloads the body, meaning it can’t process it effectively, hampering insulin use. And so type 2 diabetes develops and, if not managed effectively, can eventually result in heart attack, stroke and even blindness.
How do I know I have it?
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which develops quickly, type 2 is a gradual process – but when glucose levels in the blood are high enough, symptoms can occur including:
Weight loss and tiredness Urinary infections and thrush Excessive thirst Blurred vision
But many cases of type 2 diabetes are picked up very early as a result of blood tests arranged by GPs. If you’re aged over 40, you’re more at risk of type 2 diabetes and can get tested for this as part of an NHS Health Check. You should also get tested if you’re at high-risk including if you have a large waist (more than 80cm in women, 94 cm in men).
Becoming diabetes free
Many people with type 2 diabetes take the drug metformin, which helps the body make better use of its own insulin, bringing glucose levels down. But it will only work when taken as part of a healthy lifestyle.
What is exciting is that, as well as controlling type 2 diabetes with the right lifestyle changes, research has now shown you can reverse it. If you’re able to lose weight and get rid of the fat that’s built up in your liver and pancreas they will begin to process insulin normally again and you’ll be free of type 2 diabetes.
One study found that dietary changes could reverse diabetes in just one week. Diabetic patients who had undergone gastric bypass surgery – were unable to eat and being fed through a drip – lost weight after seven days and had a normal blood glucose test.
Remember, you can’t ‘cure’ type 2 diabetes. Go back to your old habits of a bad diet and no exercise and it will come back. But with a permanent change to your lifestyle, you can be free of type 2 diabetes for life.
Your reversal plan
Whether you want to reverse type 2 diabetes, or lessen your risk, try these tips to help set you on the right track.
1 Cut out sugar as much as possible. Not just cakes, but also carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and potatoes, which turn to sugar in the body. Wholegrain varieties are better, but still limit these. Go for foods like salads and soups during the day and have a small amount of carbohydrates with your evening meal.
2 Limit sugary drinks, including fizzy types but also fruit juice, which is high in sugar. Drink water, and tea and coffee without sugar.
3 Build activity into your day. At least 150 minutes of exercise a week is required to improve blood glucose levels. If you’re not a gym lover, try walking and build up to exercising for longer periods at low intensity and as regularly as you can for all-round fitness.
4 Limit your carbs to no more than 30g in a meal. This equates to a medium wholegrain roll with sliced turkey and salad; or baked salmon with a small jacket potato and vegetables.
5 Don’t just sit there. Research found that the longer the time spent sitting every day the greater the level of insulin resistance. And, people who spent five hours a day watching TV had a 50 per cent higher risk of developing diabetes. Get up and walk around once an hour to help speed up metabolism and lessen your diabetes risk.
6 Pick the right fruit and veg. some have less effect on your glucose levels than others. Berries, leafy and salad veg are good options; apples and carrots should be eaten in moderation; while bananas and melon should be eaten in small quantities.
7 Choose active travel – cycle to work, walk to the train station and never use the car for short journeys.
8 Snack on nuts, as they contain hardly any carbohydrates but plenty of healthy fats.