Diabetes is now Australia’s sixth biggest killer, with another 280 people being diagnosed with the disease every week.
According to Diabetes Australia, the disease is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease, with Type 2 diabetes costing the country $14.8 billion a year, making it critical that Australians take action now to arrest the problem.
National Diabetes Week, from July 14-20, this year focuses on raising awareness of the condition and of its rapid increase. Diabetes Australia has launched a new campaign The Face of Diabetes to urge all Australians to do their bit, and to spur government to adopt a strong and effective strategy.
To this end, it is important to understand what diabetes is, and the risk factors, even – and especially – if you do not (yet) have it.
Diabetes is a long-term disease in which the body either fails to produce insulin or becomes unable to proerly use it. When you eat healthily, your digestive system converts food into a simple sugar, glucose, that is transported by the bloodstream to fuel the body. But the body produces more glucose immediately after eating, and less in between meals, creating a fluctuating glucose level in the blood. Too much is bad, as is too little. Insulin helps the body equalise the supply by prompting the liver to store surplus glucose as glycogen until it is needed. The different kinds of diabetes each adversely affect the way in which the body produces, or uses, insulin.
There are three kinds of diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes (GDM)
In Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. It is managed with insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump. Australia has one of the highest rates of type 1 diabetes in the world, though it forms a small percentage of the total incidence of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.
Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, occurs when the body stops producing insulin or fails to respond to insulin as a trigger to store glucose. It is closely allied to obesity, and is most commonly diagnosed among adults over 40, and more specifically from 50 to 60. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled, and it can be prevented by healthier living.
Gestational diabetes occurs in about five per cent of pregnancies and disappears after birth. It requires careful control of blood glucose levels throughout pregnancy to avoid complications in the mother and baby.
Diabetes and its subsidiary effects can damage your whole body – your eyes, kidneys, nervous system, heart, circulation and the extremities. It can lead to blindness, kidney failure or kidney cancer and the amputation of extremities such as feet because of circulation problems.
So, who’s at risk?
Your risk of developing Type 2 increases if a parent or sibling has it. Being overweight and having high blood pressure are also primary risk factors. Certain races including Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders as well as those of Asian background are more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes, although doctors do not know why.
The story is not all doom and gloom though.
If you are unlucky enough to develop Type 2 diabetes, or were born with Type 1, the disease can in most cases be controlled by healthy dietary choices, exercise, insulin and monitoring your blood glucose levels. By applying the appropriate treatments people are able to go living an active and busy lifestyle, avoiding long-term complications.
There are several things you can do to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Make simple changes in your lifestyle. Start by eating healthy. Avoid foods that contain large amounts of sugar, carbohydrates and trans-fats. Instead, eat food that’s high in fibre. It’s important to exercise – get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Additionally, do not smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol. – Kiera Thanos
Kiera spoke with one diabetic to find out how people cope with the disease thanks to medical intervention. You can see her report here.