Diabetes – the scourge of our times!

Described as one of the greatest public health concerns of our time, the number of people with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled over the past 20 years and the condition now affects over four and a half million people.  90% of all these cases are Type 2 diabetes. 

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, which is considered to be an autoimmune disease with the causes not fully known, Type 2 diabetes is believed to be largely preventable through diet and lifestyle choices. Obesity is thought to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

If Type 2 diabetes is allowed to develop and is not well managed, long term complications such as cardiovascular disease, diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy and even foot amputation may result.  Moreover, people with diabetes are at higher risk of experiencing complications from coronavirus.

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes

may include:

  • feeling constantly tired
  • feeling the need to eat frequently
  • dry mouth and increased thirst
  • inability to stop snacking on sweet and starchy foods
  • cravings for caffeine
  • frequent urination
  • yeast infections


How does Type 2 diabetes develop?

A diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate and refined grains runs the risk of overloading the body’s blood glucose metabolism. Excess glucose in the blood is redirected by insulin to be stored as fat; so, the more sugar and carbohydrates consumed, the more fat is stored!

This can lead to an excess of visceral fat which, unlike the fat stored under the skin, is found more deeply embedded in the body and causes central obesity which is more commonly known as a “pot belly”.  This apple shape is strongly associated with Type 2 diabetes as well as increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Visceral fat releases cytokines – these are inflammatory messengers that cause blood vessels to constrict, make blood more likely to clot and interfere with hormones, reducing insulin sensitivity. This is a lack of sensitivity to insulin by the cells, which means that the hormone insulin cannot do its job of transporting glucose from the bloodstream into our cells to be used for energy.  This causes high levels of blood glucose which in turn causes increased insulin production, as the body struggles to achieve balance.  This in turn leads to greater fat deposits – so its a vicious cycle! 

Ultimately, this can lead to insulin resistance, where the body needs more and more insulin to have any effect and blood sugar levels can no longer be effectively controlled.  This is the driving factor leading to pre-diabetes and the development of Type 2 diabetes.


Other factors that may contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes

As well as high sugar intake, other factors that may contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes include chronic stress, chronic lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyle and imbalanced gut bacteria.  There is even growing evidence that vitamin D deficiency – usually due to lack of sun exposure - may be a contributory factor in the development of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as Vitamin D deficiency leads to reduced insulin secretion.

So how can you prevent type 2 diabetes?

It is estimated that nearly a million people in the UK have diabetes but do not know it!  This is because many of the symptoms could be subtle in the early stages and may be easily dismissed.  However the high blood glucose levels will be taking their toll on the body, damaging nerves, eyes and kidneys.  Additionally, some people are diagnosed with pre-diabetes – meaning that their blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classed as diabetes. However, even at this stage, underlying internal damage is being done.

Now for the good news!   The development of Type 2 diabetes can be slowed down or prevented altogether by dietary and lifestyle changes. A study from the University of Leicester found that adults who lose weight or reduce waistline measurement within a year of a pre-diabetes diagnosis are significantly more likely to return to normal glucose tolerance than adults who don’t.

As always – prevention is better than cure and the earlier you take steps to address the development of Type 2 diabetes, the better.

Top dietary tips for stable blood sugar:

  • Increase fibrous, nutrient-dense foods which create a much lower blood glucose rise than refined foods that are low in fibre – include whole grains, wholemeal pasta and brown rice in moderation and combine these with protein foods.

  • Eat low glycaemic fruits and vegetables (low glycaemic means foods that are slower in raising blood sugar than high glycaemic foods)  such as rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, broccoli, courgettes, sprouts, spinach and other leafy greens. Moderate your consumption of starchy vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips and combine them with healthy protein.

  • Avoid sugars and substitute xylitol for sugar – xylitol is a natural sweetener that won’t spike blood sugar levels and contains fewer calories than sugar.  It can be added to hot drinks and used in cooking.

  • Reduce caffeinated drinks which raise blood sugar levels – limit your intake to one cup of tea or coffee a day. Only drink fruit juice occasionally – fruit juices provide concentrated sugar –  and when you do, dilute it, one third juice to two thirds water.

  • Reduce alcohol consumption –alcoholic drinks raise insulin levels and in excess, may adversely affect food choices.

  • Any mid-morning and afternoon snacks should contain a small amount of protein with carbohydrate – these are just some examples:

  • natural yoghurt with chopped fresh fruit,
  • humus with oatcakes or
  • a handful of nuts and seeds with a piece of fruit

Not only can this way of eating help to prevent Type 2 diabetes, but recent research is suggesting that Type 2 diabetes can be successfully put into remission, bringing blood glucose levels back into the normal range, without medication.  One radical low calorie diet trialled by Newcastle University has been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes, even in participants six years into the disease.

Lifestyle measures:

Chill out!

Stress causes raised blood sugar as well as encouraging weight gain around the middle.  Activities such as tai chi, qi gong and yoga can help ease stress and maintain a calm, relaxed disposition.

Get active!

Regular moderate exercise such as walking or swimming helps to deal with stress, whilst more vigorous exercise may aid visceral fat loss. It is recommended to take two and a half hours each week of moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or hiking or one hour and 15 minutes of high intensity exercise, such as jogging, swimming lengths, skipping or playing football.

In conjunction with the appropriate diet, exercise can contribute to weight reduction and management as well as improving glucose metabolism.

Useful nutritional supplements

Chromium –  is an essential nutrient involved in normal carbohydrate and fat metabolism and contributes to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. 

Magnesium – helps maintain tissue sensitivity to insulin and higher dietary magnesium intake has been associated with lower fasting insulin concentrations and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adults and obese children.  Found in nuts, seeds, whole grains and leafy green vegetables, many of us may be low in magnesium due to modern agricultural methods, food storing and processing. Magnesium is also quickly used up when anxious and stressed.

B vitamins – stress depletes B vitamins which are needed by cells for efficient burning of glucose and fat. B3 and B5 are required for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Cinnamon – research suggests that cinnamon may have a beneficial effect in reducing fasting serum blood glucose in Type 2 diabetes.

Apple Cider Vinegar – a variety of studies suggest that apple cider vinegar may have a beneficial effect on blood glucose levels.

Please note: If you are taking any prescribed medication please contact our Nutrition Support service at: nutritionsupport@highernature.com letting us know the exact names and we will be happy to check for any potential interactions with the recommended supplements.

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