Print

Diabetes

Diabetes

Diabetes

Definition

Diabetes is a chronic (long term) condition in which the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. This may be because the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or there is a problem with how the body's cells are responding to it. The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.

Description

For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the conversion of glucose into energy. In a person with diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body's cells do not respond adequately to the hormone.

This means when a person eats foods containing glucose e.g breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yoghurt and sweets, the glucose cannot be converted into energy and stays in the blood. This is why blood glucose levels are higher in people with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent)

  • Insulin-making cells in the pancreas are destroyed by an autoimmune problem, which means insulin is no longer made
  • One of the most common chronic childhood illnesses in developed nations
  • More commonly seen in people under the age of 30, but can occur at any age
  • Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent)

Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent)

  • Caused by either inadequate levels of insulin or a failure of the body's cells to respond properly to insulin – most people have both of these problems
  • More commonly seen in people more than 40 years of age, although the age of onset can be earlier
  • Overweight teenagers and children are at increased risk
  • Often brought on by a lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet
  • More commonly seen in people carrying mid-section fat, high blood pressure or heart disease
  • May have a familial link

Signs and symptoms

In most cases people do not have symptoms when they develop type 2 diabetes. Regular check-ups are needed to diagnose type 2 diabetes early. When the levels of glucose in the blood are particularly high (this is common in type 1 diabetes), symptoms develop.

These  include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Excessive thirst
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased risk of infections, such as thrush
  • Frequent urination.

 

Occasionally, diabetes can come on suddenly. This is more likely with type 1 diabetes. This can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis, which is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention is the following symptoms occur;

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive passing of urine
  • Altered consciousness
  • Coma.

Treatment options

As with all medical conditions, consult your Doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. There is no cure for diabetes. Treatment aims to manage the condition by controlling blood glucose levels, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and by achieving a healthy body weight. The treatment depends on the type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes treatment includes:

  • Insulin injections
  • A balanced, healthy diet
  • Monitoring blood glucose
  • Physical activity
  • Having regular checks.

 

Type 2 diabetes treatment includes:

  • Healthy eating
  • Physical activity
  • Medications and possibly insulin at a later stage
  • Weight management
  • Monitoring blood glucose
  • Smoking cessation
  • Having regular checks.

 

If untreated, high blood glucose levels can result in serious complications. These include:

  • Kidney damage (nephropathy)
  • Eye damage (retinopathy)
  • Nerve damage to the feet and other parts of the body (neuropathy)
  • Heart disease (for example, angina or heart attacks), strokes and circulation problems in the legs
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Foot ulcers or infections resulting from circulation problems and nerve damage.

Diet hints

All people with diabetes are advised to have a healthy eating plan. To control blood glucose levels in a person with type 1 diabetes requires further consideration.
 

Managing blood glucose levels for a person with type 1 diabetes requires matching the amount of insulin to the carbohydrate in the foods eaten. There are different types of insulin and various regimes. It is possible to be flexible about the time of meals and the amount of carbohydrate in meals and snacks. See the Low Glycaemic Index Diet for more information. You will need to know how to plan your food, insulin and activity to best manage your blood glucose levels. It is advisable to consult a dietitian experienced in working with people with type 1 diabetes to help you develop your own suitable meal plan. Ask your Doctor for a referral.

Vitamins/minerals/herbs

 Always consult your Doctor before taking any supplement or herbs. Nutritional supplements may only be of benefit if dietary intake is inadequate.

- Chromium supplementation may help to balance insulin levels.

Cinnamon may lower blood sugar by decreasing insulin resistance. Some studies have shown that at least half a teaspoon of cinnamon per day is required to have this effect. . Cinnamon may also help to reduce elevated triglyceride and HDL (unhealthy) cholesterol levels.

- Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil, help to reduce elevated triglycerides and reduce the severity of diabetic neuropathy.

- B Complex vitamins are involved in promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

- CoQ10 has a protective effect on blood vessels. Individuals with Diabetes and prediabetes are at risk of blood vessel injury.

- Vitamin C, vitamin E and the minerals zinc and magnesium may help to reduce urinary protein output (a marker of glomerular renal function) in patients with diabetic nephropathy.

- Alpha Lipoic Acid has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid may also be helpful in cases of diabetic neuropathy in type 1 and 2 diabetes.

- Garlic may stabilize blood sugar and help reduce risk of heart disease and other circulatory disorders by improving blood flow, lowering elevated blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels.

- Psyllium has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels.

- Bilberry may help to prevent diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

- Gymnema sylvestre is a herb that helps to control blood sugar and may play a role in alleviating Type 2 Diabetes-related symptoms

Organisations & support groups

See the Diabetes Australia topic on the Healthpoint.

Pharmacist's advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
1) If you have any queries regarding your medication for Diabetes, ask your Pharmacist.
2) Blood glucose testing monitors are available to monitor your blood glucose. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
3) Urinalysis testing strips can help detect excess glucose and ketones in the urine. These should be used in conjunction with a blood glucose monitor.
4) Sugar-free medications such as cough syrups are available. Remember to ask your Pharmacist for brands suitable for Diabetics.
5) Smoking increases the risk factors for other diseases such as heart disease and vascular disease. Ask your Pharmacist for help quitting smoking. Nicotine patches, nicotine chewing gum, nicotine inhalers and the QUIT programme are all available from your Pharmacy.
6) Foot care products such as wound dressings, corn pads, nail clippers and orthopaedic shoes can be recommended by your Pharmacist. A Podiatrist should always be consulted for any problems with the feet.
7) Exercise is vital, especially for Type II Diabetes. It reduces body fat, improves blood glucose control, lowers fat levels in the blood, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease. See the Exercising for Health topic for further information.
8) See the Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs section in this topic and ask your Pharmacist for advice on dietary supplements.

Reference sources

Living with Diabetes. Diabetes Australia. Last updated July 2011. Available from URL: http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au

Shopping list

General

  • Blood glucose monitor

Natural

  • Chromium

Diet

  • Low GI Diet