This week, Sally looks at practical ways to reduce your risk of developing type-2 diabetes and gives diabetes patients pro-active tips on how to improve their symptoms in aid of Diabetes Week.
With National Diabetes Week this week, I thought it was timely to focus on diabetes as it is so closely connected to obesity. I want to share not only how the two are linked, but give you real, practical ways in which YOU can help reduce your risk of getting diabetes in the first place, or if you already have it, how you can help manage and reduce your symptoms.
So – what are we up against?
Currently, two-thirds of the population are overweight and 1 in 5 of us is obese. This isn’t just a cosmetic issue – obesity carries an increased risk of many diseases; most notably that of developing type-2 diabetes.
Type-2 diabetes is the commonest type of diabetes and is a condition in which the body produces insufficient insulin or has become insensitive to it. Insulin is the essential hormone or chemical messenger in our bodies that is responsible for keeping a steady level of blood sugar. High blood sugar over a long period of time causes damage to vital organs.
Once mainly a disease common in middle and old age, it is now increasingly seen in younger adults and even kids as young as 7 – a sad symptom of our increasing obesity problems.
According to recent national guidelines, around £480m a year is spent in managing diabetes attributable to obesity. And that is just the hospital costs – it doesn’t include the costs in GPs’ surgeries or to the economy at large.
In other words, we are spending a vast amount of money on a potentially treatable or preventable condition. As UK taxpayers, diabetes is damaging our pockets as well as our health.
So, let’s look more closely at the link between obesity and diabetes because if you are overweight, you may still be able to prevent it developing. If you are already diabetic, don’t panic! It’s easy to feel like the ‘damage is done’ but instead take a positive, pro-active approach, as losing weight can improve your diabetes considerably – and in some cases it can disappear.
Diabetes: the facts
1. If you are overweight (BMI 26-30), you are 1½ times more likely to develop diabetes.
2. If you are obese (BMI 30+) you are 2½ -5 times more likely to develop diabetes.
3. Having excess abdominal fat – also known as central or abdominal obesity (i.e. a large waistline – the classic ‘apple’ shape), puts you at particularly high risk for Type-2 Diabetes. Your waist-to-hip ratio is therefore an even more useful indicator of risk than your BMI. If your hip measurement is a lot smaller than your waist measurement, you are in trouble! A study of 32,000 women found that women with the highest BMI and waist:hip ratio were 29 x more likely to have diabetes than the women with lowest BMI and waist:hip ratio.
4. If your waist-to-hip ratio is over 0.85 for women or 1 for men, (even if you are not particularly overweight) you need to try to reduce your waist circumference. For more information on measuring your BMI and waist-to-hip ratio look back at my previous article ‘Weight or waist?’.
5. Some women develop something called gestational diabetes during pregnancy, which improves once the baby is born. However, they then have a greater risk of developing diabetes in later life, and so does their child.
6. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are also at greater risk of diabetes.
7. If people in your family have diabetes, you are also at greater risk.
8. Pre-diabetes is a warning that you are at risk of developing full diabetes if you do not act. In this situation your blood sugar levels are high – but not quite high enough to be labeled as diabetes.
So, on a positive note: what can you do?
The good news is that losing weight can really help in this condition. It’s not often you get the opportunity to treat the symptoms of an illness yourself; being pro-active and tackling your weight in a healthy way really will help:
1. Reducing your body weight by about 5% and exercising regularly could reduce your risk of getting diabetes by more than 50%.
2. If you have diabetes already, keeping to your recommended treatment will help control the complications, but weight loss of only about 5-10% can reduce insulin resistance and improve diabetes to such an extent that you may be able to stop any drugs you are on (under the guidance of your physician). So, if you want to avoid the complications of diabetes, which can include heart attacks, strokes, eye problems, kidney failure and other serious problems, then it is time for action.
3. Don’t diet – it doesn’t work long-term, as you know. Instead, make the small but sustainable changes to your eating behaviour and lifestyle that we advocate at VavistaLife.
4. Cut out sugar and processed foods and reduce carbs – eat only wholegrains rather than white bread, flour, rice and pasta.
5. Replace fizzy drinks and fruit juices with water.
6. Don’t snack – recent studies show that just two meals a day reduced weight and improved insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
7. Keep moving whenever you can. Don’t worry about signing up for an expensive gym – just build activity into your everyday life. Always use the stairs rather than lift or escalator and leave the car at home – or at least park a good distance away from where you need to go and walk the rest.
8. Try to perform more vigorous exercise, too – Women with previous gestational diabetes who performed 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity) were found to have a 47% lower risk of developing actual diabetes.
9. Sleep. If you are well rested you are more able to make healthy choices the next day.
If you haven’t already then please join us on the VavistaLife Programmes where, along with my team of experts, I can provide you with yet more advice on losing weight and keeping it off long-term.
Ganz ML, Wintfeld N, Li Q, Alas V, Langer J, Hammer M. The association of body mass index with the risk of type 2 diabetes: a case-control study nested in an electronic health records system in the United States. Diabetol Metab Syndr. 2014
Eating two larger meals a day (breakfast and lunch) is more effective than six smaller meals in a reduced-energy regimen for patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomised crossover study. H Kahleova, L Belinova, H Malinska et al. Diabetologia 2014.