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What is Diabetes and How Can I Prevent It

  • 30 Nov 2023
  • 3mins

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin or when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin produced. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body regulate its blood sugar level. Suffering from high glucose levels due to diabetes can lead to many health issues that affect the body and organs.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are two common forms of diabetes, though they arise from different causes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to create insulin for the body as the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas-producing islet cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to create enough insulin to properly regulate the glucose level in a person’s body. The body also becomes resistant to insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is more common and is often caused by having too much body fat or a lack of exercise, though other factors may also predispose a person to the condition. Type 1 diabetes is usually genetic and is most common in children and adolescents.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women. It can develop in women who do not already have diabetes and happens when blood glucose levels rise during pregnancy. It is important for pregnant mothers to manage their condition if they do have gestational diabetes, as it may be passed to their child.

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

According to endocrinologist Dr. Matthew Tan, the good news is that prediabetes is a reversible condition and is more manageable than full-blown diabetes.

“Most prediabetic people have a few short years before overt diabetes sets in fully,” stated Dr. Tan.

One will be able to reverse prediabetes or keep it at bay with appropriate lifestyle changes, such as changing to a healthier diet and regular exercise.

Effects of Diabetes on the body

Diabetes can cause harm to a number of parts of your body, from the cardiovascular system to the urinary system.

High glucose levels in the blood decrease the elasticity of blood vessels and cause them to narrow, which restricts blood flow. This may result in an increase in the risk of high blood pressure and damage to large and small blood vessels in the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in diabetics. The CDC adds that people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have a stroke or die of some form of heart disease than those without diabetes.

Diabetes patients are also more predisposed to suffer a stroke or other heart disease than those without diabetes.

Due to poor blood circulation, the ability to heal from wounds or infections is affected in those with diabetes. Those with diabetes should regularly check their skin for wounds and see their doctor if they have any signs of infection.

How can I prevent or better manage type 2 diabetes?

There are a number of ways you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, such as:

Staying active

30 minutes of physical activity a day is recommended to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps to increase the insulin sensitivity of your cells; hence, you will end up needing less insulin to manage your body’s blood sugar content. If it has been a while since you have been active, speak to a medical professional about which activities are best for you to start with.

Cutting back on sedentary behaviour is also important, as studies have linked sedentary behaviour to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. It can be as simple as standing up from your desk and walking around your room for a few minutes.

Eating healthily

A high diet quality has been shown to be associated with a nearly 30% lower risk of type 2 diabetes as compared to a low diet quality. Reducing the portion size of your meals, cutting down on your carbohydrate intake and minimizing your intake of highly processed food are some ways you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Carbohydrate is broken down into smaller sugar molecules in the body, this in turn stimulates the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin, which aids in the absorption of sugar from your bloodstream into your cells.

Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, oatmeal and wholegrain are other healthy alternatives to consider.

Dr. Tan shared about a patient, a 30-year-old overweight man who unfortunately developed type 2 diabetes mellitus in his 30s. The patient required medical help to treat diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Dr. Tan and his patient discussed ways to help him manage his weight and diabetes, including close monitoring of his glucose profile before and after meals, and reflecting on the type of meals that tend to cause huge spikes in his glucose level.

With lifestyle optimization, he was able to lose 9 kg (~ 7% of his baseline weight) over 3 to 4 months and that was good enough as a start to normalize his glucose indices without drugs. Further work will be required long term to keep the patient in diabetes remission and reduce long term metabolic risks. It has been shown that a weight loss of 5% to 10% is a proven means of diabetes prevention, even on the long term, and can dramatically improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes.

Improving vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is important in helping to stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas. Studies have shown that improving the level of vitamin D in the body has been linked to better blood sugar management in people with prediabetes. Good sources of vitamin D includes fatty fish and cod liver oil.

Contributed by

Dr. Matthew Tan
Dr. Matthew Tan Diabetes and Endocrine Care