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Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease where the blood glucose levels in the body are too high and the body cannot use it properly.

There are two main types of diabetes and many differences between them:

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which means that the body is mistakenly attacking itself. There are many known autoimmune diseases including Lupus, thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In type 1 diabetes the immune system incorrectly targets insulin producing cells (called beta cells) in the pancreas. It is not known why or how to stop it. Therefore over time the pancreas loses the ability to produce insulin and the person must inject insulin daily. Everyone with type 1 diabetes is insulin dependent and will be for life.

Type 2 diabetes is quite different, and it is important to note that it is generally preventable and can very often be put into remission through lifestyle change. In type 2 diabetes the immune system is not attacking the beta cells in the pancreas. Instead, over time, due to excess sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption, the body loses its ability to respond to insulin, so the person becomes insulin resistant. This happens because the higher the level of sugar in the blood the more insulin the beta cells in the pancreas pump out. Over time and no reduction in circulating sugar these cells get exhausted, burn out and insulin production diminishes.

Common differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes:

Prediabetes

Prediabetes or borderline diabetes is where a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, but not high enough to get a diagnosis of full-blown diabetes. It is a clever warning system from the body and If not addressed it will lead to type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes is closely tied to obesity, however not everyone with prediabetes is overweight. There are other factors such as genetics and Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome that can also increase the risk. 

How big is the problem?

  • Approx. 3.7 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes and if there are no changes by 2025 this will rise to 5 million
  • Of these people 90% have type 2 diabetes and 10% have type 1
  • 12.3 million people in the UK are at risk of developing diabetes (prediabetic)
  • 422 million people worldwide have diabetes and 1.6 million deaths each year are directly attributed to diabetes

How type 2 diabetes affects overall health

Diabetes is pretty tough on the body. The excessive glucose circulating in the blood has a negative and sometimes devastating impact on every organ. Below are some of the ways type 2 diabetes can affect our overall health: 

 

Basic diet and lifestyle advice on prevention of the development of type 2 diabetes

It is important to recognise that type 2 diabetes, in most cases, is preventable and new evidence shows that it can often be put into remission through consistent diet and lifestyle change. Diet and lifestyle play a major role in the cause, management and rate of progression of this disease. So, what can we do practically to prevent it? Here are some simple basic tips for those who have been diagnosed as prediabetic or as suffering from blood sugar imbalance:

1. Look at losing any excess weight

Obesity and type 2 diabetes quite often go hand in hand and that is no co-incidence. In the UK currently 90% of adults with type 2 diabetes are classified as obese and obesity is linked to many other chronic health conditions, so it makes sense to remove the risk where possible. Losing weight can be easier said than done and can feel like an overwhelming challenge. Most of us develop habits over many years and changing behaviours can take time but everyone can do it.

If you would like to lose weight think about getting some expert advice and guidance around what will work for you as we are all different. Avoid “dieting” as this can often result in a negative cycle of feeling deprived of the foods you love and feeling miserable. You could also join forces with a friend or family member and motivate each other.

Aim to lose weight slowly and consistently.

2.  Increase physical activity levels

All of us know that physical activity is important for general health and wellbeing. However, lack of physical activity is closely linked to prevention of and management of type 2 diabetes. The minimum recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week. If you have not exercised before, please speak to your doctor before starting any new exercise programme.

3. Simplify food intake

It is essential to review your nutritional intake. Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes result from a chronic excess of sugar in the blood, which overtime becomes too much for the body to handle. Try to eat plenty of whole unprocessed foods (processed foods include cakes, biscuits, sweets, ready meals or anything with more than 4 ingredients), with plenty of fruit and vegetables, fresh wild fish and free-range chicken and eggs.

For more information on eating for type 2 diabetes look here. Make sure you speak to your GP or a qualified Nutritionist before embarking on any new eating plans.

4. Address Chronic Stress

Stress, in any form has been shown to initiate changes in blood sugar levels which is an issue for those who are prediabetic and who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. For everyone, whether they are suffering from type 2 diabetes of not, chronic stress contributes to depletion of the immune system. There are many ways of reducing the stress response and everyone will find what works for them. Everyone needs to find what works for their personal situation and preferences Some of the most popular options are:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Yoga
  • Walk in nature

Consistency is key. Make it part of your day something you do for yourself.

If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are on medication its best to discuss your options with your GP. However, many of the tips above should still apply. There have been new developments in this field that are worth discussing with your GP. 

Considerations for Employers and Managers

  • Be aware of the demographics of your workforce as this may tell you if you have a working population at increased risk. Employees from south Asian backgrounds are up to 6 times more likely than white employees to develop type 2 diabetes. Similarly those from African and African-Caribbean backgrounds are up to 3 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than white employees. What are the rates of obesity? High Blood Pressure? Is it possible to measure numbers of people with diabetes?   
  • Consider making resources available to help staff understand diabetes-how to prevent it, where to look for more guidance and what they can do to manage it if they have already been diagnosed.
  • Encourage open conversations about physical health, not just mental health, to reduce overall health stigma. Many people who have been diagnosed with a disease or a condition are afraid to talk about it.
  • Think about the facilities available to staff across the whole shift pattern. Do they have somewhere to store food if they want to bring in food to work. What foods are available to them on their breaks if they do not have it with them? Are there healthy options? If food is provided, is it nutritious?
  • Does the working environment encourage physical activity? If not, is it possible to make any adjustments? Does the company promote physical activity and signpost?
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