What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic health condition where there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood. There are 3 different forms of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body fails to produce insulin. This type of diabetes is normally diagnosed in childhood.
- Type 2 diabetes, most prevalent in adults, is characterised by the body’s inability to use insulin, also known as insulin resistance.
- Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition diagnosed during pregnancy, characterised by high blood sugar levels that can impact both mother and child’s health. Gestational diabetes usually resolves post-delivery, but it increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life ().
How does diabetes affect the body?
Diabetes does not just impact your blood sugars – it can significantly impact many other systems and organs in the body. Primarily, it alters the body’s ability to process glucose, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. This disruption, caused by either a lack of insulin (Type 1 diabetes) or insulin resistance (Type 2 diabetes), can lead to a range of complications of diabetes. For instance, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, impacting vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and eyes, leading to the following conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nephropathy – loss of normal kidney function
- Retinopathy – damage to eyesight
- Neuropathy – nerve damage, causing pain and numbness in the limbs
- Impaired immune function – leading to increased risk of developing infections
The onset of these complications varies, often depending on factors such as the duration and management of diabetes, individual health, and lifestyle choices. Generally, complications of diabetes can develop over several years of poorly managed blood glucose levels, but they may appear sooner in some individuals, emphasising the need for effective blood glucose control and regular medical check-ups ().
What are the symptoms and complications of diabetes?
Insulin resistance, a key feature of Type 2 diabetes, occurs when cells in the body become less responsive to insulin, forcing the pancreas to produce more insulin to compensate. This condition not only disrupts energy levels but also affects appetite and food choices, often leading to a preference for high-sugar, high-calorie foods for an energy boost. However, these foods increase blood sugars, increasing the complications of diabetes.
Insulin plays an important role in managing blood glucose levels, which are crucial for the body’s energy supply. In diabetes, the disruption of this process leads to various symptoms, each contributing to energy depletion (,):
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
- Constant hunger due to inadequate glucose supply to cells.
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
- Blurred vision.
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Slow healing sores or frequent infections
- Areas of darkened skin (acanthosis nigricans)
- Tingling, pain or numbness in hands and feet
It’s important to consider that symptoms of diabetes can vary. This list should not be used to diagnose diabetes. Please consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice and assessment.
How can I boost my energy if I have diabetes?
To minimise the complications of diabetes, it is essential to focus on nutrition, particularly eating low GI carbohydrates, which release glucose slowly, providing a steady energy supply. Examples of low GI foods include ():
- Whole grains like brown rice, barley and oats.
- Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and carrots.
- Legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
- Most fruits, such as apples and berries.
Limit high GI foods that spike blood sugars quickly, and ‘drain energy’, such as
- White breads, pastas and rice
- Sugary foods, such as cakes, lollies and pastries
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and juice
- Dried fruit
Limiting ultra-processed foods can help you minimise added sugars that are often added for flavour enhancement.
An example diabetes ‘day on a plate’ could look like:
- Breakfast: Natural muesli + greek yoghurt, berries and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
- Lunch: Quinoa salad with mixed salad and grilled chicken and ¼ avocado.
- Dinner: Baked salmon with ¼ plate roast sweet potato and half a plate of green veggies
- Snacks: Cottage cheese + whole grain crackers, fruit and a handful of mixed nuts
These meals contain a combination of low GI carbohydrates, lean protein, fibre and healthy fats – important nutrients to stabilise blood sugar levels.
Along with diet, regular exercise and medication are an important component of preventing the complications of diabetes():
Regular exercise: The WHO recommends engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and including 2 strength training sessions per week. Exercise is essential for improving insulin sensitivity and overall well-being. For example, going for a short walk after a meal can help lower blood glucose. levels.
Maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference: Weight loss of 5-10% of your total body weight has been shown to significantly improve blood sugar levels ().
Medication adherence: Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications to help you regulate your blood glucose levels
Regular health checks: This is essential for monitoring the condition and preventing complications. Your doctor may ask you to undergo regular blood tests to monitor for changes.
Individuals with diabetes should actively seek medical advice for disease management. Taking a holistic approach to change diet and lifestyle alongside medical management, is an effective strategy to manage diabetes.
Diabetes has major impacts on energy levels and overall quality of life. Taking action by seeking appropriate assessment and treatment is key to minimising and preventing complications of diabetes. To learn more about how diabetes affects the body, and how to change your diet and lifestyle for the better, book a free discovery call with Diabetes Wellness today!