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Can diabetes be prevented?

Publish date: 09/04/2014

Can diabetes be preventedLast year saw a rise in the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes, with the disease now affecting over 3.2 million people. But is there anything that can be done to prevent diabetes from occurring?

Recent data analysed by Diabetes UK revealed that 2013 saw the biggest annual increase in diabetes cases since 2008. Compared to 18 years ago, in 1996, nearly two million more people now have diabetes. But that’s not the end of the story. Diabetes UK suggest a further 850,000 people may unknowingly have diabetes that hasn’t yet been diagnosed.

Part of the increase may be due to improvements in recording data, but Diabetes UK say rises in cases of Type 2 diabetes are involved too.  

Understanding diabetes

In order to understand more about whether or not diabetes can be prevented, and how best it can be managed, it helps to understand the characteristics of diabetes. There are two main forms of diabetes – known as Type 1 and Type 2, as GP Dr Emmajane Down explains.

‘Type 1 is caused by a failure of the pancreas to produce insulin. Type 2 occurs when there’s not enough insulin, or the insulin is not working effectively. Both types lead to high levels of glucose (or sugar) in the blood that can’t be used as fuel.’

In the case of Type 1 diabetes, it usually develops in childhood and comes on very quickly. “This form of diabetes is always treated with insulin and accounts for only 10 per cent of adults with diabetes.”

In contrast, Type 2 diabetes develops slowly over a period of years. ‘It affects adults, usually over the age of 40, but can also develop in children and young people. It is often treated initially with diet and exercise, but insulin is often needed as the disease progresses and worsens.’

Do lifestyle factors influence diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, as it’s caused by your body’s immune system destroying insulin-producing cells, so your lifestyle habits before diagnosis are unlikely to have an influence. However, once diagnosed, a healthy lifestyle can play a crucial part in keeping you fit and healthy, and in turn reduce the risk of developing any diabetic complications, such as eye problems. 

However, some cases of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented from the outset. ‘Type 2 diabetes can be prevented in some people, because obesity (particularly carrying extra weight around your waist) is a significant risk factor,’ says Dr Down. ‘However, genetics, age and ethnicity are also involved, as some people develop Type 2 diabetes when they’re not overweight.’

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, having regular exercise and ensuring you have a healthy body weight are beneficial for helping to manage and control Type 2 diabetes. ‘Obese patients who lose significant amounts of weight can sometimes even stop taking their medications once the weight is lost.’

In addition, if you’re a smoker when diagnosed, giving up smoking offers a positive step to improving your long term health. This is especially so as diabetes puts you at any increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems, as does smoking, which can be a lethal combination.

How to reduce your risk of diabetes

According to Diabetes UK, 80 per cent of cases of Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented, and your risk reduced by up to 60 per cent, simply by making simple lifestyle changes. 

If you’re concerned about your risk of Type 2 diabetes, then Dr Down suggests one of the best things you can do is maintain, or reduce, your weight, so you have a normal BMI (body mass index). 

The top steps recommended by Diabetes UK for reducing your risk include:

  • Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet, with at least five portions of fruits and vegetables each day. 
  • Swap high sugar, salt or saturated fat snacks for low-GI snacks. For example, reduced fat cheese, wholegrain crackers, unsalted nuts or yogurt. 
  • Eat regular meals, as this will help your blood glucose levels to be stable.
  • Take care with your portion sizes. Smaller portions help weight loss and are kinder to your blood glucose levels.
  • Take heed of the recommended daily alcohol limit – two to three units for women and three to four units for men.

As a bonus, these steps won’t just help reduce your risk of diabetes – they’ll also improve your overall health and fitness, and play a part in reducing other major health concerns, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

For tasty and healthy menu ideas, both to help prevent diabetes and maintain it, check out our selection of delicious recipes. 

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