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Health

How to avoid diabetes

Diabetes is one of the fastest-spreading epidemics in the West yet, as David Hughes reports, it could be reversed by simple lifestyle changes 

It's a condition which three million people in Britain already know they have – and an estimated 850,000 also have but are unaware of. It costs the NHS £1m an hour, a figure which doctors warn is set to rise, with disastrous results for an already overburdened service. Consequences for the individual are equally catastrophic, as a chronic, untreated condition can lead to blindness, amputations or kidney failure.

Sufferers are almost 50 per cent more likely to have a heart attack than the general population, are at 25 per cent more risk of a stroke, and have a 40 per cent higher risk of early death.

The cause: diabetes. It’s one of the fastest-growing epidemics in the western world, with the numbers of sufferers in Britain rising by five per cent per year.

Yet experts say there is an opportunity to reverse the rising numbers of the most common form of the condition and avoid chronic ill-health, if simple lifestyle changes are put in place.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the body is short of insulin, needed to enable cells to convert glucose into energy. If the body is unable to use the glucose, it builds up in the blood, adversely affecting the organs. There are two main types of diabetes, known as Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, the body produces no insulin at all.

Everyone with this condition has to be treated with insulin, either by injections or a pump. Nobody knows what causes Type 1 – it is an abnormal reaction of the body to the insulin-producing cells, and there may be a genetic element to that – but it is usually noticed in childhood, and is not caused by being overweight or by any lifestyle factors. If left untreated, it will cause serious ill-health very quickly. About ten per cent of those with diabetes have Type 1.

The other 90 per cent have Type 2 diabetes. This isn’t a ‘mild’ form of diabetes – left untreated it can still produce the same devastating effects – but it is possible to manage the condition by making lifestyle changes. As Type 2 is a progressive condition, however, people with it may need to use medication, including insulin, aswell.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body still makes some insulin, but not enough; and sometimes the insulin that is produced does not work properly, a situation known as insulin resistance.

There’s also a condition known as pre-diabetes, or Impaired Glucose Regulation, where people have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (and also of developing heart disease). It’s estimated that around seven million people in the UK have Impaired Glucose Regulation and are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

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