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Diabetes Causes and Treatments

According to the charity Diabetes UK, there are currently about 3.8 million people in this country who have diabetes, including an estimated 630,000 people who have type 2 diabetes but who don’t realise it.

According to the charity Diabetes UK, there are currently about 3.8 million people in this country who have diabetes, including an estimated 630,000 people who have type 2 diabetes but who don’t realise it. And those figures are set to increase, with an estimated 4.6 million people in England alone forecast to have diabetes by the year 2030.

Diabetes can develop when your blood glucose levels; that is, the amount of glucose (or sugar) in your blood; becomes too high and your pancreas doesn't produce enough of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is important because it helps break down the glucose in the bloodstream, allowing it to get into the body's cells where it is used for energy.

Glucose enters your bloodstream when you digest carbohydrates, which are found in many types of food, particularly starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice but also in fruit, certain dairy foods and of course most sweet foods.

Many people think that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. This, however, isn't true.  But eating too much sugar can make you overweight or cause obesity, which can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include the following:

  • Age (in general, the older you get, the higher your risk)

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes

  • Obesity/overweight

  • Inactivity

  • High blood pressure

  • History of heart attack or stroke

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome in overweight women

  • History of gestational diabetes during pregnancy

  • Diagnosis of impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia

 

Type 1 vs Type 2

  • Type 1 diabetes - affects an estimated 10 per cent of all adults and children with the disease. Nobody really knows why it develops, but it usually affects people under the age of 40 whose bodies can't produce enough insulin. If you suffer from type 1 diabetes, it's likely you'll need regular insulin injections.

  • Type 2 diabetes - usually develops when you're older, which is why it's often referred to as adult-onset diabetes. However, an increasing number of younger people are developing type 2 diabetes these days, and black and Asian people also have a higher risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their 20s and 30s. Often people with type 2 diabetes do produce some insulin, but not enough; or else their insulin is unable to do what it's supposed to do, that is, to break down the glucose in your bloodstream.


Know the signs

With so many people unaware they have type 2 diabetes, it pays to know what the warning signs are, including the following:

  • Feeling thirsty all the time

  • The need to urinate frequently, especially at night

  • Constantly feeling tired for no reason

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Regular bouts of thrush or genital itching

  • Blurred vision

  • Cuts and wounds that are slow to heal


Living with diabetes

If you have diabetes, there are lots of things you can do yourself to help manage it. You don’t even have to give up all your favourite foods if you eat healthily. Here are some tips on eating, as well as other ways your lifestyle can help:

  • Eat regularly
    Don't skip meals ’ eat three evenly-spaced out meals during the day. And make sure each meal includes some starchy carbs  ’ for instance, bread, pasta, rice, noodles or potatoes (you should aim for between five and 14 portions of starchy food each day).

  • Get your five a day
    Having five daily portions of fruit and veg is a great way to make sure your diet is healthy. Go for fresh, frozen, dried or canned (a portion is roughly what you can fit into the palm of your hand).

  • Cut down on fat
    Eating less fat ’particularly saturated, or animal, fat’ is better for your heart and can help you to lose weight. Go for low-fat dairy foods and limit the amount of oil you use in cooking.

  • Don’t forget protein
    Have two to three portions of protein a day, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, beans, lentils or other vegetarian alternatives.

  • Limit sweet foods
    You don’t have to cut out all sugar from your diet, just reduce the amount of you eat by to choosing no-added-sugar foods. Meanwhile, avoid ‘diabetic’ foods, as they are often high in fat and calories.

  • Keep your weight down
    If you’re heavier than you should be, losing weight can help control your blood glucose levels. Eating healthily and exercising regularly can help you to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Drink less alcohol
    Stick to recommended limits for drinking alcohol (3-4 a day for men, 2-3 for women), and try to make a rule never to drink on an empty stomach.

  • Stay active
    Exercise is an important part of managing type 2 diabetes, as it keeps your blood glucose levels and weight healthy, increases your fitness and lowers your blood pressure. Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week (30 minutes on five days of the week is ideal, though you can break your sessions down into 10-minute chunks). Moderate intensity means your heart will be beating faster and you’ll feel warmer, plus you should be slightly out of breath (try fast walking, cycling or swimming).

  • Stop smoking
    If you have diabetes, it can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Smoking increases that risk even further. If you need help with giving up, there are lots of stop smoking products that may help, such as patches, lozenges and gum.

  • Look after your skin and feet
    Having diabetes could mean you may also have dry skin, so moisturise often. Diabetics can also suffer with foot problems, so wash your feet daily and check carefully for any cuts, sores or blisters.

 

Diabetes and your skin

If you have diabetes, you may be more likely to have dry skin as well as problems with the skin on your feet. Here are some of the things you can do to keep your skin healthy from top to toe:

  • Moisturise regularly
    Use a gentle moisturiser on your skin after bathing or showering, but avoid moisturising between your toes, as it could encourage the growth of fungus. Try to use hand cream every time you wash your hands to stop your hands getting too dry; and if you're going outside, use a lip balm to prevent your lips chapping.

  • Use warm water, not hot
    If you’re taking a bath or a shower, make sure the water is warm rather than hot, as water that’s too hot can dry out your skin. Also avoid using bath products that may irritate your skin (choose mild products designed for sensitive skin).

  • Protect yourself
    Always use sun protection during the summer and if you’re going abroad. Use a product with SPF15 or higher on mild days and SPF30 or higher when the sun is strong. Meanwhile, in the winter wear a hat, gloves, thick socks and warm shoes or boots when you go outside.

  • Stay humid
    During the winter the air in your home can become very dry, especially if you have central heating. But increasing the humidity can help to keep your skin healthy. Try using a humidifier, or place bowls of water near radiators. Also keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water. 

  • Avoid infections
    If you get any minor cuts or burns, treat them as quickly as possible to avoid any infections developing using a gentle skin cream or ointment. If you suffer a more severe cut, burn or infection, see your GP as soon as possible.

  • Check your feet
    Inspect your feet for any cuts or blisters daily, and if you do spot a problem ask your GP to have a look as soon as possible.


Treating diabetes

The treatment for diabetes depends on which type you have. Most people with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is often controlled by following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, though some people with type 2 diabetes may also need medication:

  • Tablets
    There are several different types of prescription tablets used to treat type 2 diabetes that don't contain insulin. You may need to take them if your diabetes isn’t been controlled well enough by eating healthily and exercising. There are several different types of glucose-lowering medicines available, and you may need one or a combination of two or more.

  • Insulin
    If have type 1 diabetes you’ll usually need to take insulin. Meanwhile, if you've been taking tablets for type 2 diabetes that have started to become less effective at controlling your blood sugar levels, your GP may prescribe different tablets or insulin. Most people need two to four insulin injections a day, usually in the stomach, buttocks or thighs, using either a syringe or a pen (auto-injector). The good news is that the needles used to inject insulin are very small, and most people get used to using them fairly quickly.

You may also be advised to take other medicines to reduce your risk of health problems that arise as a complication of diabetes. There’s lots more information on diabetes treatments at www.diabetes.org.uk.


Diabetes complications

If you don’t manage your diabetes effectively ’ or if you have untreated diabetes ’ it can lead to a variety of health problems. In the long term, these include things such as heart attack, stroke, eye damage (including blindness), kidney disease, musculoskeletal problems (including limited joint mobility), nerve damage and kidney failure.

To avoid these complications, you should manage not just your blood glucose levels, but also your blood pressure and cholesterol. In the shorter term, type 2 diabetes can lead to complications called hypoglycaemia (blood glucose that’s too low) and hyperglycaemia (blood glucose that’s too high).

  • Hypos
    Several things can cause your blood glucose to drop too low, making you feel hungry, shaky and lightheaded. Missing a meal or not eating very much can lower your blood glucose too much, as can exercising more than usual or taking too much medicine for the amount of carbohydrate you’re eating.
    If you feel a hypo coming on, eat some fast-acting carbohydrate, such as a small carton of pure fruit juice, five sweets (such as jelly babies), three or more glucose tablets or some glucose gel.

  • Hypers
    Not taking your medication or taking too little can cause a hyper, as can eating too many carbohydrates. You may feel very tired, thirsty and generally unwell, and may need to go to the toilet more frequently than normal.
    If your blood sugar stays high for just a short time, treatment isn’t necessary. But if it stays high, you should drink plenty of sugar-free fluids, take extra insulin (if you’re on insulin), or contact your GP or diabetes nurse if you’re feeling unwell, particularly if you’re vomiting.

You can help prevent hypos and hypers by keeping a regular check on your blood glucose levels. Everyone with type 2 diabetes should have their blood glucose level tested at least every two to six months by their GP or diabetes team. Some, however, may need to test their blood glucose levels more regularly by using their own blood glucose meter or urine testing strips at home.


Natural support for blood sugar control

There are several natural supplements that may help with blood sugar control  ’ though they shouldn’t be used as an alternative to conventional medicines or medical care. These natural supplements include the following:


Chromium

An essential trace mineral, chromium is required by the body to help regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Indeed, there are some studies that suggest chromium supplementation may help to improve blood sugar level control, including among those who have type 2 diabetes (i). There are small amounts of chromium in foods such as broccoli, grape juice, dried garlic, orange juice and turkey breast.


Cinnamon

Far more than a culinary flavouring, cinnamon is one of the oldest remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine. Widely recommended by natural therapists as a supplement that may help with type 2 diabetes  ’ among other conditions and ailments  ’ it has been found to improve blood sugar levels in a couple of small-scale studies of people with the disease (ii).


Alpha lipoic acid

There’s also some evidence that this fatty acid may help to control blood sugar levels (iii). The supplement has also been used widely in Germany to treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy 'nerve damage caused by diabetes that affects the feet, hands,  legs and arms' with one study confirming its effectiveness (iv).


Magnesium

People who have diabetes may find themselves deficient in certain nutrients as a result of the disease itself and taking medicines that treat it. Experts believe magnesium is often lacking in people with diabetes (v), so taking magnesium in supplement form could help support your general health. There is also some evidence that magnesium supplements may help to enhance blood sugar control (vi).


Fish oils

People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and high levels of fat molecules in the blood called triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease too. Experts also believe high triglyceride levels may be a sign of poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has upheld claims that the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) ’ both of which can be found in oily fish ’ contribute to the maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides. Studies also suggest that fish oil supplements may reduce triglyceride levels by up to 30 per cent (vii).

Please bear in mind that if you have diabetes and your blood sugar levels become too low for whatever reason, you may be at risk of hypoglycaemia. If you have diabetes, check with your GP before taking any medicines, including natural supplements.

 


References:

  1. , et al. The influence of chromium chloride-containing milk to glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Metabolism. ;55:923-927.

  2. ,, et al. Chromium picolinate supplementation attenuates body weight gain and increases insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. ;29:1826-1832.

  3. , et al. Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. Eur J Clin Invest. ;36:340-344.

  4. , , et al. Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Diabet Med. ;27(10):1159-1167.

  5. , et al. Systematic review of herbs and dietary supplements for glycemic control in diabetes. Diabetes Care. ;26:1277-1294.

  6. , et al. Oral treatment with {alpha}-lipoic acid improves symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy: The SYDNEY 2 trial. Diabetes Care. ;29:2365-2370.

  7. . Magnesium and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. ;10:203-209.
    . Hypomagnesemia and diabetes mellitus: a review of clinical implications. Arch Intern Med. ;156:1143-1148.

  8. . Effects of oral magnesium supplementation on glycaemic control in Type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomized double-blind controlled trials. Diabet Med. ;23:1050-1056.
    . A current update on the use of alpha lipoic acid in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. :9(4):392-8

  9. . N-3 fatty acids and serum lipoproteins: human studies. Am J Clin Nutr. ;65(Suppl 5):S1645-S1654.
    , et al. Benefits of fish oil supplementation in hyperlipidemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cardiol.
    , et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) for type 2 diabetes mellitus.


Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best The Pharmacy is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.