Diabetes

What is Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease in which the body either does not produce or cannot properly use the pancreatic hormone insulin. Insulin controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood and the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the cells.

If blood sugar falls too low (hypoglycaemia), a person’s ability to reason can become impaired. If blood sugar is too high (hyperglycaemia), the person has diabetes.

There are two major types of diabetes; type 1 (or insulin dependent diabetes mellitus) and type 2 (non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus).

Type 1 affects 5-10% of people with diabetes and usually starts at an early age. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas. Experts believe this may result from an immune response after viral infection or something related to nutrition.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does produce insulin in small quantities but not enough to fuel the cells. The cells may also become resistant to the effects of what little insulin there in in the bloodstream. Many people have type 2 diabetes and are completely unaware of it. This type of diabetes usually begins in later years, although, unfortunately it is now becoming more common in young people. Known risk factor for type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese, having a parent or sibling with diabetes, having had gestational diabetes, abnormal cholesterol, having polycystic ovary disease, clinical signs of insulin resistance like acanthosis nigricans (dark rash around the neck) etc.

The danger with diabetes is not the disease itself, but the complications that can arise if insulin levels are not maintained at a constant level. Consistently high blood sugar levels can, over time lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, limb amputations and nerve damage.

Considerations

In many cases, intensive lifestyle changes in diet and exercise actually can prevent, reduce or delay the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes.

Opinions may differ as to the optimal ratio of dietary carbohydrates, proteins and fats for prevention and treatment of diabetes. However, it is safe to say that carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin. As more carbohydrates are consumed, more insulin is produced. The current epidemic of obesity and diabetes indicates that we are asking our bodies to burn the wrong fuel – refined carbohydrates - in this case.

Research shows that those with diabetes who adopted a healthy diet that included adequate protein (30%), fats, mainly from polyunsaturated fats (30%) and carbohydrates (40%) from fruits and non-starchy vegetables and ate limited amount of whole grains, starchy vegetables and pasta had less ill effects from the disease as evidenced by a reduction in haemoglobin A1c (marker of glucose levels over 3 months).

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