Type 2 Diabetes

What is it?

Type 2 Non-Insulin dependent Diabetes Mellitus is often known as late onset diabetes since it tends to affect people over 35, although it is becoming increasingly common in younger people.  It is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90-95% of sufferers and should not be confused with Type 1 where sufferers are insulin dependent.

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Diabetes is caused by a malfunction of the hormone insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas.  Insulin is needed to control the level of blood glucose (sugar) and the rate it is absorbed into the body cells and used for energy.

Type 2 sufferers may be secreting some insulin but not in sufficient amounts, and may therefore require regular insulin injections to correct the imbalance. Frequently, however, sufferers do have sufficient insulin but the body’s insulin receptors cannot process it efficiently. It can be controlled by diet and lifestyle modifications.

What causes it?

There are a number of factors affecting the likelihood of contracting Type 2 diabetes, those being diet, weight, race, age, lack of exercise, and heredity factors. It is frequently found in overweight people (90% of cases). In many cases the condition can be controlled without the need for insulin or other drugs, instead purely by making dietary changes. Additionally, people eating a diet high in refined food (which is full of sugar), refined carbohydrate (such as white bread, white pasta and pre-packaged convenience meals), high in stimulants (tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and confectionery), too much meat and dairy products and too little fibre are more susceptible.  Sometimes there are no symptoms, instead it may be noticed by a routine urine test (glucose present) or blood test at the doctor. Symptoms can include extreme thirst, increased hunger, and increased urination.

Insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas, is the only hormone in the body that reduces blood sugar levels. When we eat a snack or meal high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, the level of glucose in the blood will rise above normal levels. Insulin is released quickly, which reduces the levels too far, causing symptoms of hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar (causing hunger, dizziness, irritability, lack of concentration, brain fogginess, palpitations, and numbness or tingling of the lips). The adrenal glands will then release adrenalin in response to this drop that will increase blood glucose levels again. this is the cause of diabetes. Over time, this constant load on both the pancreas and adrenal glands will impair their correct functioning. The insulin receptors on cells fail to respond to the hormone (insulin resistance), and the adrenals and pancreas become exhausted and their function slows reducing their output,  which can lead to diabetes.

Other associated health factors

Generally, this type of diabetes is preventable with diet and lifestyle modifications. When we know that diabetes can be a risk factor for heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage to the limbs and internal organs and free radical damage in the body, it makes sense to do what we can to prevent its onset.

Dietary measures

  • Ensure that you are eating complex carbohydrates rather than refined - this means wholegrain foods such as wholewheat pasta, wholewheat bread, wholegrain brown rice, beans, lentils, peas and lots of vegetables especially broccoli, spinach, kale, french beans, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Avoid white bread and pasta and processed foods that are low in nutrients, lacking in fibre and high in sugar, these disrupt blood sugar levels.

  • Reduce stimulants such as tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and sweets that stimulate the adrenal glands to raise blood sugar levels. Replace these instead with herbal teas, rooibosch tea, dandelion coffee or fruit teas. Always drink around 2 litres of purified or bottled water daily, tea's and coffee are diuretics. It is worth noting that even decaffeinated tea and coffee still contain some stimulants, but they are useful if you need to ‘wean’ yourself off the real thing slowly!

  • Certain cooked vegetables such as parsnips and baked potatoes have an effect on blood sugar. Raw or lightly steamed vegetables are better choices. Peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli are good choices and all contain soluble fibre. All vegetables have antioxidants, which are very beneficial, and a good variety should be eaten daily.

  • A diet high in fibre helps to balance the digestion of carbohydrates and control blood sugar release. Fibre rich foods are beans, lentils, oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium husks (available in health food shops), peas and apples.

  • Although fruits contain sugar, it is in the form of fructose, which has to be turned into glucose in the liver, thereby slowing down sugar release. Grapes tend to have the greatest effect on blood sugar as well as pineapple, watermelon and bananas, whilst apples, berries and pears have the least effect. All other fruits are excellent choices.

  • A diet high in saturated fats found in red meat, dairy products, cakes, ice cream and crisps increases the level of triglycerides (fats) in the blood, which is another risk factor for developing diabetes. Conversely, eating oily fish found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna as well as nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts) all contain essential Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. The body cannot make these fats, they are essential for many bodily functions and help to lower triglyceride and insulin levels.

  • Balance blood sugar levels by eating a meal or snack containing protein and carbohydrate. A portion of fish, portion of wholegrain rice, two portions of vegetables, or a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts.

  • Do not go for too long without any food. Eating little and often is a good strategy, ideally no longer than 2 to 3 hours without some food.

Lifestyle

One of the most important ways of avoiding diabetes is by maintaining the correct body weight.  Obese people tend to have difficulty in processing insulin correctly. As well as following the above dietary guidelines, you should take some regular exercise, which raises your pulse rate, at least three times per week. Suitable options are cycling, brisk walking, joining in an aerobics class – whatever activity you will enjoy and, most importantly, do on a regular basis! try to build up to 30 to 60 minutes aerobic activity and resistance training three or four times per week. If you are a smoker, then you need to try and stop since cigarette smoke encourages free radical damage as well as having an effect on blood sugar levels.

This article has
been written by
Terry Fairclough