So what is diabetes?

Written by Sarah-Jane Reilly studying  a PLC in nutrition and dietetics


Diabetes is an increasingly common metabolic disorder that affects the way our bodies use food for energy and growth. When we eat food, it is digested and converted into glucose (simple sugars). These sugars then enter the bloodstream as a source of fuel for our body cells. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin which helps to regulate the levels of glucose in the blood by enabling glucose to enter cells in our bodies.
Diabetes is a condition that effects the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin and/or our cells ability to respond properly to insulin. Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot convert glucose into energy. As a result of this, there is a higher than normal level of glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia) which eventually leads to a person developing diabetes.

There are three main types of diabetes:
• Type one diabetes
• Type two diabetes
• Gestational diabetes

Type one diabetes
Type one diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It is an autoimmune condition that typically first develops in children or young adults. In autoimmune diseases the immune system produces antibodies against part or parts of our bodies…in this case the body’s immune system destroys the insulin producing (beta cells) of the pancreas.
Type one diabetes may be genetically inherited or triggered by viral infections in those who are genetically susceptible to the condition.
Common symptoms of type one diabetes to be aware of include:
• Frequent urination ( in children, frequent bed wetting even after toilet training)
• Unusual thirst
• Extreme hunger
• Sudden weight loss
• Blurred vision
• Nausea
• Irritability
Type one diabetes is treated with insulin.

Type two diabetes
Type two diabetes is a condition where the pancreas stops producing enough insulin for the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood or when the body develops a resistance to insulin. Type two diabetes can occur at any age. It is becoming increasingly common for young children to develop this condition as childhood obesity rates soar worldwide.

Risk factors for type two diabetes include:
• Being overweight/obese.
• Having a first degree relative with diabetes (parent, brother, sister, child etc.).
• Having a waist measuring more than 80cm if you are a woman or more than 94 cm if you are a man.
• Having impaired glucose tolerance (higher than normal levels of glucose in your blood).
• Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Type two diabetes can be effectively managed through exercise, a healthy diet and is some cases medication.

Common symptoms of type two diabetes to be aware of include:
• Dry mouth
• Increased thirst
• Being hungry all the time
• Unexplained weight loss
• Passing large amounts of urine
• Numbness, pain or tingling in your hand/feet
• Frequent infections

Top dietary recommendations for preventing/managing type 2 diabetes include:

1. Choose high fibre, slow releasing carbohydrates and avoid highly refined carbs.
Unlike highly refined carbs, complex carbohydrates release their energy at a much slower rate. They prevent a sudden spike in the level of sugar in the blood. They provide us with lasting energy and keep us feeling full for longer. We can introduce complex carbohydrates to our diet by substituting foods like white rice for brown rice, white bread for whole-grain bread and cornflakes for bran flakes.
2. Eat regular small meals at set times of the day.
Our bodies are more capable of regulating the levels of sugar in our blood if we eat small portions of food at set times of the day.
3. Exercise!
We all know that exercise helps us to lose weight. But did you know that it can also lower our blood sugar levels and increase our sensitivity to insulin, the hormone which helps to regulate our blood sugar levels?
4. Prevention is key!
Type two diabetes can be prevented by following a healthy diet. This involves being shop smart and food smart. Read the labels on foods, particularly the RDA of each nutrient. Question general food health claims and limit the amount of sugary refined foods you eat.

Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that may develop during pregnancy. It occurs when the mother’s body is unable to produce enough insulin. During pregnancy, the mother’s placenta produces hormones that work against the action of insulin. When this insulin cannot get to into the body’s cells, blood sugar levels rise and the mother may develop gestational diabetes overtime.

But not to fear!
According to the American Diabetes Association, you are at low risk of developing gestational diabetes if you meet all of the following criteria:
• You are younger than 25 years of age.
• Your weight is in a healthy range.
• You’re not a member of any racial or ethnic group with a high prevalence of diabetes.
• None of your close relatives had diabetes.
• You’ve never had a high result on a blood sugar test.
• You’ve never had an overly large baby or any other pregnancy complication usually associated with gestational diabetes.

According to the HSE, gestational diabetes affects 12% of pregnant women. There is no proven way of preventing gestational diabetes, however, certain steps can be taken to reduce the risks of developing the condition. This steps include:
• Eating a nutritious, well balanced diet, high in fibre and fruit and veg.
• Keeping active and fit during pregnancy.
• Losing excess pounds prior to pregnancy.

Comments from Aveen; If you suspect you have type 2 diabetes you must visit your GP. Diet is imperative in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and you need to include lots of whole foods, fresh vegetables, lean proteins and high fibre foods while limiting sugary foods and saturated fats.Seek help from a dietitian.