Diabetes is a medical condition that happens when the sugars in your blood are elevated to an unhealthy level. Typically, you can normally manage this if you follow a healthy and balanced diet and if you make sure that you include enough exercise in your daily routine. Both of these help to ensure that your blood sugar levels remain at a constant and healthy level. Taking a diabetes test can help you to monitor this. Let’s take a look at diabetes, the different types of diabetes and how you can keep your blood sugar levels under control.
What’s blood sugar?
As you will find glucose in your food, you will also find glucose in your bloodstream. Known as blood sugar, your blood sugar levels are the glucose in your bloodstream at any given moment. Blood sugar levels are sometimes referred to as serum glucose level or blood glucose level.
Glucose is essential to your body’s energy levels as it is the main source of both your body and brain’s energy. When stored in your body, glucose is stored as glycogen and 4 grams is considered the healthy amount of glycogen that should be in your body at all times.
Why should you keep your blood sugar under control?
Maintaining your blood sugar levels at the right levels is important. If your levels sink too low, you can suffer from hypoglycaemia, and become hypoglycaemic, or, if your levels are too high, you can suffer from hyperglycaemia, and become hyperglycaemic. Having either blood sugars too low or too high can be extremely serious for your body – it can create some severe consequences. To make sure that this doesn’t happen, your body works to maintain constant and steady blood levels at all times. This process is known as homeostasis and occurs when your pancreas releases two hormones, insulin, and glucagon. Insulin is geared at reducing your blood sugar levels and while glucagon is associated with increasing them.
With low levels of blood sugar, your body will generate glucagon to bring your sugar levels back up to normal and, if your blood sugar level is too high, you will generate insulin to return your blood sugar levels back down to normal. Insulin is also responsible for stimulating your cells to absorb the sugar from your blood so that the sugars can be used as energy.
Why does your blood sugar level rise?
There are several reasons that your blood sugar levels will increase. These include:
- Not including enough exercise in your daily routine
- An infection or illness
- Periods, ovulation and other changes in your hormone levels
- Eating a meal that’s high in carbohydrates
Glucose is not bad for you. In fact, it is essential to your body’s very existence and both your body and brain use glucose as their source of energy. You need a certain amount of glucose to be able to function, but it’s the level of glucose in your blood that you need to consider.
What is diabetes and how is it related to blood sugar?
When your body finds it hard to respond to insulin or produce insulin, you are considered to be diabetic. If this is the case and you are not producing insulin as you should, your blood sugar levels can increase to dangerous and unhealthy levels, which can result in damage to your body.
There are two types of diabetes. They are:
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is most frequently diagnosed during the earlier years of childhood. Diabetes occurs when the immune system turns on and attacks the site of insulin production in the body until the body can no longer produce insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when your body either does not produce enough insulin or your cells have become resistant to insulin.
Causes and risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes
While type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, type 2 diabetes usually happens because of lifestyle choices but it can also be impacted by genetic factors.
You might be more likely to get type 2 diabetes if:
- A family member has diabetes. A diabetes diagnosis in a parent or sibling means that you are 2-6 times more likely to contract diabetes in your lifetime.
- You’re in your 40s or older as you’re more likely to suffer from diabetes as you age
- You’re a smoker, which also makes you more prone to other medical conditions
- You drink large amounts of alcohol, considered to be over 14 units a week
- Live a sedentary lifestyle where you sit down for most of the day. Please note that you can still exercise frequently but also have a sedentary lifestyle
- You are overweight or obese, which will already raise your risk factor of insulin resistance
- You already have high blood pressure, which is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- You are of Black African, African Caribbean or South Asian, which increases your chances of having type 2 diabetes by 4 times
Type 2 diabetes symptoms
Type 2 diabetes symptoms can be very discreet and you may be living with diabetes for many years before you realise it. The most commonplace symptoms are:
- Extreme fatigue and tiredness
- Increased urination, especially nocturnal
- Cuts and wounds that are slow to heal
- Blurry and blurred vision
- A greater number of low-level infections, such as thrush
- Extreme and constant thirst
- Weight loss that you cannot explain
If you notice any of the symptoms noted above, please see your GP.
Type 2 diabetes long-term effects
Living with type 2 diabetes can cause some severe side effects, unless you take measures to address the situation. Left untreated and unmanaged, type 2 diabetes could lead to:
- Nerve damage
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Diabetic retinopathy which is the damage to the retina, or the back of your eye, caused by high blood sugars
Can I prevent diabetes?
Yes, you can take steps to ensure that you do not contract type 2 diabetes. Following a healthy lifestyle is the main way in which you can prevent type 2 diabetes.
Ensure that your diet is healthy
Eating a diet that is high in nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and oily fish while avoiding processed, sugary and salty foods is essential to keeping type 2 diabetes at bay.
You may be insulin resistant, have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. You might find intermittent fasting a helpful way of managing your food intake. Intermittent fasting brings together set periods of hours where you will fast and reduced numbers of hours during the day when you will eat. There are several options to choose from so make sure that you understand the options and discuss it with your GP or health professional before you embark on any programme of intermittent fasting.
Watch your waist
Alongside managing your weight, you may also wish to check your waist size. Waist sizes are considered to be indicators of whether you’re at risk of diabetes. Males are seeking a waist measurement of 94cm (37ins) or below while females are looking for under 80cm (31.5ins).
You should be aiming to include at least 150 minutes moderate-intensity or 75 minutes high-intensity exercise every week. Exercise is essential for reducing blood sugar levels and is a great way to prevent or manage diabetes.
Watch what you drink
Drinking alcohol can affect your blood sugars so limiting the amount you drink each week is important. NHS guidelines recommend that you drink no more than 14 units per week. 14 units of alcohol is 7 pints of average strength beer or 7 175ml glasses of wine. This will change depending on the size of the drink and the alcoholic strength of the drink.
If you are a smoker, it will improve your health if you quit. Smoking is closely connected with an increased chance of many different medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.
What sort of diabetes test can I take for prediabetes or diabetes?
There are blood tests that can be carried out and will show you what your risk of prediabetes or diabetes is. They are:
- The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) which checks blood sugar levels before and after you drink a glucose drink
- Fasting insulin, which would indicate insulin resistance
- HbA1c, which measures average blood sugar levels over the previous 3 months
- homeostatic model assessment (HOMA) which measures blood sugar and glucose levels