Diabetes Australia raises awareness of one of our most significant preventable diseases for just one week a year, but our lifestyle choices permeate every day of our lives. Around 280 new cases are diagnosed each day, but the organisation estimates that 60% of all cases can be prevented, or at least delayed, given the right dietary and exercise changes and an awareness of one’s risk factors. If you have a strong family history of type 2 diabetes and carry excess weight around your middle, you may be at risk of developing the disease – particularly if you’re over 45 years of age. You can assess your risk factors here. Despite cases which are genetically unavoidable in even very fit and active people, most of us can make small changes that go a long way towards prevention.
What Is It?
Diabetes describes abnormally high levels of blood glucose in the body, which slowly damages organs and tissues in the body over time without good management. 1.1 million Australians have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but a staggering 2 million are “pre-diabetic”, the highest category of risk, making this pandemic the fastest growing chronic condition in the country. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed in individuals whose glucose levels are higher than normal, but still not high enough to be classed as diabetic. Without intervention, however, most pre-diabetics will develop diabetes within 5-10 years.
Why Is It A Problem?
So why the dramatic increase in cases of type 2, which accounts for up to 90% of all diabetes sufferers? Leading experts explain that diabetes has become so prevalent because of rising levels of obesity, dietary changes over time, reduced activity and an ageing population. These lifestyle problems are also seeing more young people receive a diagnosis than ever before, and this is why prevention is held up as the most important feat in the fight against the disease.
The impact of diabetes on an individual can be significant, particularly when the glucose levels are poorly managed, and in cases of a delayed diagnosis. We frequently see serious damage that includes kidney disease, heart problems, numbness in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), eye conditions and stubborn infections. Some of these conditions can become life-threatening, so good management of the disease is crucial. This can happen in several ways, depending on the severity of the disease. A change in lifestyle that prioritises a healthy diet and regular exercise is key, and can be combined with oral medication or insulin injections. In advanced cases, managing the associated conditions will become just as important.
How Can We Prevent It?
It’s important to remember that most cases of diabetes are preventable, and even if you’re pre-diabetic you have an opportunity to make changes and reverse the tide. Taking control of your lifestyle choices is a vital way to reduce your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as many other chronic illnesses.
Controlling your weight alone, particularly around the belly, could prevent around 60% of type 2 cases. Your BMI (Body Mass Index), although a crude calculation of health, is still a reasonable predictor of developing diabetes, so it’s worth knowing what yours is. There is no special diabetes-prevention diet recommended by specialists, but you can stick by some reasonable guidelines that include choosing foods with a low glycemic index, watching your calorie intake, limiting alcohol consumption and eating enough fruit and vegetables.
Regular physical activity, especially the kind that builds muscle mass, is also a useful tool for prevention. By understanding how different foods are processed in your body and the effect that exercise can have on this process, we can begin to make better choices. Some insurers offer rebates for professional dietary advice, and even for gym memberships – compare providers to understand what benefits you may receive. For a detailed reading on diabetes and its management and prevention, see our Comprehensive Diabetes Guide.
When to Seek Help
If you don’t have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes but experience any of the following changes, tell your medical doctor as soon as possible: an increase in thirst and hunger, extreme tiredness, dizzy spells, blurred vision, constant dry mouth, regular headaches or increased urination. These symptoms shouldn’t be a source of fear – an early diagnosis will still allow you to make the important changes that can lead to a long and productive life.