What is Type 2 Diabetes?
A quick introduction to type 2 diabetes
People living with type 2 diabetes have high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. High levels of glucose in the blood can be harmful and it can affect the body in a number of different ways.
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include passing more urine, feeling thirsty, tiredness or blurred vision. All of these symptoms can be improved by lowering blood glucose levels, and this can be done with a combination of healthy eating, physical activity and medication.
It is very important to take type 2 diabetes seriously. This is because of the risk of long-term complications if diabetes is not treated properly. When blood glucose levels run high for months or years, the blood supply to various parts of the body can be reduced as arteries (blood vessels) get damaged and blocked up. When small arteries get damaged, it affects the eyes, kidneys and nerves. When bigger arteries are damaged, it causes heart attacks and strokes.
The good news is that proper treatment reduces the risks of all of these complications.
Why do people get type 2 diabetes?
Like most chronic conditions, type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Diabetes often runs in families and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be five times higher if a close family member has the condition. The risk also increases with age, weight and ethnicity - with higher rates in people in South Asian and Black communities. People with a history of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes or polycystic ovaries will also have a tendency to get type 2 diabetes.
The number of people living with type 2 diabetes has been increasing across the world. This is linked to modern lifestyles as our physical activity levels and diet have changed. We spend less time being active and our diets have become higher in calories, fat, carbohydrates and processed food. For many people, this means putting on weight - particularly around the waist. Fat around the abdomen and other parts of the body make it harder for the body to lower blood glucose levels and so blood glucose levels rise with age and eventually people develop type 2 diabetes. Some people can get diabetes even without being overweight if their pancreas is not able to make enough of the hormone insulin or if their bodies are resistant to the effects of insulin.
How can you treat type 2 diabetes?
A healthy diet, physical activity and medication all help to reduce the risks of developing complications of type 2 diabetes.
Let’s start with diet.
Most of the glucose (sugar) in the blood comes from food. Carbohydrates in food get digested and absorbed as simple sugars like glucose. These sugars come from digesting starchy food like potatoes, rice, bread and yams, or from sweet food and drink like fruit, fruit juice, chocolate or desserts. So the quickest way to start reducing your blood glucose levels is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates you are eating. Cutting out sweets, biscuits and crisps, and reducing your portions of bread, rice, potatoes or pasta will start to reduce your blood glucose levels straight away. Following a Mediterranean diet with small portions of carbohydrates is the one of the best things you can do to improve your health and manage your blood glucose levels.
Any physical activity you do will also help to lower blood glucose levels. Exercising burns up calories and uses up glucose from the blood. And the benefits of exercise in improving blood glucose levels can last for up to 3 days!
If you combine a healthy diet with physical activity – you will probably start to lose weight. People newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes may be able to reverse some of the changes of type 2 diabetes and put their blood glucose levels back into the normal range by losing 5-10% of their body weight. We don’t know if diabetes can be cured - but it can be reversed at the start with changes to lifestyle.
There are also many types of medication that are very helpful in protecting the body from the damage caused by high blood glucose levels.