I was shocked to learn this week that diabetes is now costing the NHS £1bn a year! The most heart breaking thing is that the vast majority of this money could be saved, because 92% of recorded diagnosed diabetes, is type 2.
Type 2 diabetes is actually preventable, even reversible and is caused by lifestyle factors. Unlike diabetes type 1, which is an irreversible auto immune disease. Type 2 diabetes is predominantly caused by over consumption of sugar and carbohydrate. It is estimated that today, the average 5 year old has eaten as much sugar as our ancestors did in their entire life time just 100 years ago. A person’s sugar consumption over 5 days in the 1960’s can now be matched by drinking just 1 can of fizzy drink!
The problem is, our bodies didn’t evolve to be able to handle so much carbohydrate and sugar. When we eat sugar (carbohydrates get broken down into sugar), our bodes release insulin. This hormone sends a signal to the cells of our liver and muscles, telling them to absorb sugar out of our bloodstream. It does this because sugar cannot stay in our blood for too long – if left there, over time, it will cause damage to blood vessels which can result in nerve damage, amputation, kidney failure and blindness!
Now, if you eat a lot of sugar, often, then you will have to release more insulin, more often. The problem is, over time, the cells in our liver and muscles can become resistant to insulin, basically they start to ignore it’s order to absorb sugar out of the blood. Also, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin get worn out and tired and don’t do such a good job.
Type 2 diabetes used to only be seen in the elderly, as people got older and more sedentary their cells would start to get less efficient at removing sugar from the blood. But now, we are seeing the disease in children! Their cells are being worn out way too quickly, because they are consuming too much sugar and carbohydrate.
If you have been told that you are pre-diabetic or would like to decrease your risk for developing the disease, here are some things you could do:
- Reduce overall carbohydrate consumption by replacing them with plenty of protein, veg and some fats.
- Exercise & move more – exercise increases insulin sensitivity, meaning you become more efficient at getting sugar out of your blood when you’ve eaten it.
- Avoid sugary drinks – because these drinks don’t need to be broken down and digested, all the sugar they contain gets dumped straight into your blood stream. Our bodies do better when the release of sugar from food into our blood is slowed down.
- Avoid heavily processed carbohydrate such as bread, cereals, cookies and cakes and jams – for the same reason above. These foods lack fibre so are easily and quickly broken down sugar and spike blood sugar levels.
- When you do eat carbohydrate, have it after you have exercised. The exercise will deplete stored sugar in the muscle, as a result when the sugar gets into the blood stream post workout muscle will readily absorb it and to restock their stores.
Personally, I don’t believe that the individual is to blame for significant increase in diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. People have been told, incorrectly, that saturated fat is the devil and that to avoid heart disease, we must reduce our consumption. The thing is, when you reduce fat in your diet you will have to replace it with something else. That something else is usually carbohydrate and sugar.
Changing our diet and our habits is bloody hard work. Taking a pill to manage diabetes is much easier, but we cannot keep relying on the NHS to manage preventable diseases which are caused by life style factors. The good news is, this disease like so many others is something we can avoid. Although it’s not always easy, I would much rather take control and make decisions to better my health now, then deal with the consequences of disease later.