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Things you should know about diabetes

By Pauline Muindi | June 28th 2020

Did you know that diabetes affects 9.3 per cent of the global population? That is approximately 463 million people. In Kenya, according to the Kenya National Diabetes Strategy report 2010-2015, diabetes prevalence is estimated to be 3.3 per cent.

Generally, diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is the hormone that regulates sugar in the blood. Hyperglycaemia, high blood sugar, a common effect of uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to serious damage of many-body systems and organs. In 2017, diabetes was the direct cause of four million deaths globally.

The prevalence of diabetes in the world has been increasing, thanks to poor diet and lack of exercise. But despite the epidemic proportions of the disease, some information about diabetes and its effects are not widely known. On that note, here are a few things you should know about diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes isn’t linked to sugar

There are two types of diabetes; Type 1 and Type 2. Most people associate diabetes with a poor diet, especially one which includes a lot of sugar. But type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has nothing to do with one’s diet.

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, develops when one’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This condition is usually diagnosed in children and adolescents, hence the name of juvenile diabetes.

When the beta cells are hindered from producing insulin, glucose gets trapped in the blood instead of going to various body tissues. This leads to high blood sugar, which can cause symptoms such as constant thirst and frequent urination, rapid weight loss, fatigue, and blurry vision.

The exact causes of Type 1 diabetes are still unknown, but it’s definitely not caused by dietary choices. As far as experts know, there’s nothing once can do to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes isn’t all about diet either

Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity. But while obesity is believed to account for 80-85 per cent of the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, this isn’t the only cause of the condition.

Type 2 diabetes has can also down to genetic factors or the natural rise of blood sugar that occurs with age. In fact, at least one in five people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have a healthy weight. Other factors such as alcohol intake, smoking, exercise level, and stress also play a key role in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

However, obesity is still the best predictor of whether a person is likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Research shows that people with a BMI over 30 are 80 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than people with BMI under 22. 

The link between Type 2 diabetes and obesity isn’t necessarily about the weight but where fat is stored in the body. People with a lot of fat stored around the midsection are particularly prone to developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because abdominal fats cells release inflammatory chemicals that reduce the body’s ability to incorporate and utilise insulin.

There are other types of diabetes

Although Type 1 and Type 2 are the most well-known, they’re not the only types of diabetes. There is gestational diabetes that affects pregnant women, Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY), Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood and other types of diabetes which are lesser known and less common.

Some experts also categorise diabetes which is caused by aging as different from Type 2 diabetes caused by diet or genetics. This is because researchers have found that the metabolic process in diabetes caused by aging was different from the other types of diabetes.

A research published in the journal Nature in 2015 by researchers from Salk University found that insulin resistance in older mice has a different cellular cause than diabetes caused by obesity. The regulatory T cells inside the fat tissue were abnormally high in mice with age-related diabetes, while mice with obesity-related diabetes had normal levels of the T cells (despite having more fat tissue).

A high fat diet might help

Traditionally, people with diabetes are to avoid foods that make it harder to keep their blood sugar levels well-controlled. This means eating foods which are ranked low on the glycemic index and avoiding those which are ranked high.

The glycemic index measures how foods with carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise. Compared to low-glycemic index foods, foods that are ranked high in the glycemic index lead to a quicker and greater spike in blood sugar levels. A low-GI diet can help diabetics avoid the dangerous blood sugar roller coaster and its effects.

In recent years, researchers have found that high fat and low carb diet (known as the ketogenic diet) can ease diabetes symptoms. The ketogenic diet may improve blood glucose levels, reducing the need for insulin injections. But this kind of die can also cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), especially if you are taking insulin. If you have any form of diabetes, it is advisable that you consult your doctor before trying any new diet.

Diabetes can cause depression

According to research, people with diabetes are two or three times more likely to experience depression than those who don’t have diabetes. This is mainly due to the emotional stress of dealing with a chronic illness.

Some researchers also suggest that it could be due to diabetes’ metabolic effect on the brain function. It could also be that people with depression are more likely to suffer from diabetes.

Depression often complicates the treatment of diabetes. A 2011 study found that people with Type 2 diabetes that had depression often have higher blood sugar levels. Additionally, another 2011 study found that people who had both conditions were more likely to experience a heart attack.

It can affect your sex life

Erectile dysfunction, inability to achieve or maintain a firm erection, is a common symptom in men who have diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes. This usually stems from damage to nerves and blood vessels caused by diabetes.

In women, diabetes can also cause inability to experience sexual stimulation and arousal, and difficulty in releasing vaginal lubricant. This changes can cause painful sex and difficulty in experiencing orgasms.

Additionally, women with diabetes are more likely to experience infections such as thrush, cystitis, and urinary tract infections.


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