What is diabetes?

In a healthy body a hormone called insulin carries the glucose (from the sugar that we consume in our diet) to the rest of the body.  In a diabetic patient the function of the insulin is impaired and cannot do its job.  The result is that the body does not receive the glucose (energy) required to perform its function. In addition, the glucose stays in the blood stream and sticks onto the blood in the blood vessels. This blocks the oxygen that the blood should be transporting to every part of the body. Without oxygen the organs slowly begin to die. EVERY organ is affected. We call this end organ failure.

Are there different types of Diabetes?

Yes, there are two types of diabetes:

Type 1: (Insulin Dependent) – The cause of type 1 diabetes is not well understood. It occurs, totally unexpectedly, predominately in young children or at adolescence. The onset of type 1 diabetes is dramatic. The first outward sign is usually excessive thirst. Overnight the pancreas that produces insulin stops functioning, and the patient becomes ill very quickly.  An instant lifestyle change is needed, and these people need to start using insulin IMMEDIATELY. Insulin is administered by injection.

Type 2: This diabetes has a very strong genetic component, and is made much worse by poor lifestyle choices – a diet high in carbohydrates, as well as a lack of exercise for example. It usually starts in middle age (although we are seeing younger and younger people with type 2 diabetes). Obesity is often a tell-tale sign, but because of the genetic component even a thin person may have type 2 diabetes. The onset of type 2 is slow and often goes unnoticed. Even so, these people have got high glucose levels and the resulting organ damage has begun: Eye sight can deteriorate, the heart weakens, leg and foot ulcers develop due to the lack of oxygen to the extremities. The list is endless. Regular routine screenings, especially blood glucose tests, will give an early indication that there is a problem.

Type 2 diabetes can usually be controlled by oral mediation although some diabetics may also use insulin to keep their sugar levels down.

What defines ‘correct eating’ when it comes to managing diabetes?

  • A visit to a dietician is advised.
  • Food should be grilled or steamed and flavoured with herbs instead of artificial condiments and salt.
  • Limit the intake of starch and eat lots of leafy green vegetables and whole grain fibre.
  • Limit fruit due to its high sugar content.
  • Drink water instead of cool drinks and fruit juices.
  • Watch the portions of food at mealtimes.
  • ‘Junk Foods’ should be avoided or limited to special occasions.
  • When it comes to buying food, learn to read the labels. Low carb does not necessarily mean the product is diabetic friendly and looking at the calorie or kilojoule content is also important.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to the above – a lifestyle change needs to be a permanent change and consistency is the key to success.

How important is testing blood sugar levels?

The key to treating diabetes, in both type 1 and 2 is to control the amount of sugar in the blood. This means that regular blood glucose tests should be done. In type 1 this means testing a few time every day.  Some Type 2 diabetics may want to test  daily whilst others will only test on their check up with the doctor, who will do an HbA1c test which gives an AVERAGE reading from the last few months.

The most common means of testing sugar levels is by using a glucometer. A drop of blood from a finger prick is placed on a test strip which is analysed in the glucometer. More and more sophisticated sugar monitoring devices are becoming available. Some type 1 diabetics wear an insulin pump which gives continuous sugar monitoring. A revolutionary sensor device that attaches to the body giving very convenient continuous readings onto a smart phone has just become available.

Diabetes patients should be aware of the different blood sugar levels obtained by testing as well as the necessity to use the relevant medication at different times.

 M-KEM Diabetes Educators are available for advice and mentoring in this respect.

Hylton Mallach (Mr. M)