Known in medical terms as Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, this form of diabetes is by far the most common, constituting about 90% of all diabetes cases. Though generally considered a disease, Type 2 Diabetes is better defined as a metabolic disorder, characterized by insulin shortage, insulin resistance and high blood-sugar levels (hyperglycemia).
Diabetes Type 2 can be brought about by a number of factors, such as lack of exercise stemming from a sedentary lifestyle, but its most important risk factor by far, is obesity.
The symptoms of this condition range from the mild to the severe, and they cover an impressive spectrum of ailments, such as frequent urination, unusually intense thirst and weight loss which is difficult to attribute to anything else. Sores that do not heal are also in the symptom-profile. From their onset, the symptoms move towards increased severity slowly but surely.
While the condition isn’t life threatening in and of itself, it is extremely dangerous in that it can potentially lead to a number of severe long-term complications, such as stroke and heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. Fortunately, besides being preventable and treatable, in some cases, Type 2 Diabetes can be cured too, through radical lifestyle and nutrition-related changes. Obviously, besides the above said obesity and lack of exercise, genetic predisposition also plays a part in the triggering of the disorder.
How do you prevent/treat Type 2 Diabetes, once its onset has been confirmed through blood tests such as the oral glucose tolerance test? Attaining and maintaining normal body weight is always extremely important. Regular exercise and proper nutrition comes next. In most cases, these measures are enough to trigger a drop in blood sugar levels. When the desired result isn’t accomplished though, metformin can be prescribed. Insulin injections are also in the books further down the line, together with the regular checking of one’s blood sugar levels. In some cases, when obesity is an obvious factor, more extreme measures, such as bariatric surgery may also come into the picture.
As obesity has gained ground in the general population since the 60s, so has diabetes. The disorder usually begins in middle- and older age, but youth diabetes rates have also been increasing lately.
What sort of lifestyle promotes diabetes though, and what exactly counts as obesity in this regard? A body mass index greater than 25 is a problem and so is a high waist-to-hip ratio. As said above, lack of physical activity stemming from urbanization is also a major factor, which contributes to increasing the diabetes risk factor directly as well as indirectly (by promoting obesity and excess body fat).
Diet-wise, sugar-sweetened drinks represent a major risk factor, one to which children and young people are especially vulnerable. Certain types of fats, like trans fatty acids and saturated fats, also contribute to diabetes, as do white rice and some organic pollutants. Smoking is a major diabetes risk factor as well.
Genetics plays a major role in one’s likelihood to develop the disorder. Many genes are apparently involved in the diabetes pathway, each of them adding a little to one’s overall risk. According to scientists, in this diabetes gene-pool, there are currently around 36 different genes involved, accounting for about 10% of the inheritable component of the condition.
Certain types of medications and certain health problems also predispose people to Type 2 Diabetes. Acromegaly, hyperthyroidism and testosterone deficiency are some of the conditions which may lead to this disease.
Prevention-wise, nutrition and exercise represent the most efficient and accessible paths. Taken together, these factors can reduce one’s risk of developing the disease by over 50%. Exercise is especially benefic, because it exerts its effects in a double-pronged manner. On one hand, even without inducing weight-loss and cardiovascular changes, it’s quite efficient at staving off diabetes. On the other, it triggers responses in the body which do in fact lead to weight loss and increased cardiovascular fitness. Exercise alone can reduce diabetes risk by about 28%.
Diet-wise benefits are much murkier from a scientific perspective though. While proper diet can indeed lead to weight loss, promoting a normal body weight, thus reducing diabetes risk, evidence is scarce in this regard. Limiting the intake of sugary drinks is a rather obvious approach. Other than that, the intake of dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale) has been proven to reduce diabetes risk as well. I recommend at least 120 grams or two cups per day.
Management of Type 2 Diabetes is a three-pronged effort, focusing on cardiovascular fitness, lifestyle changes and the keeping of blood sugar levels in a normal range. In regards to the cardiovascular aspect, microalbuminuria, high cholesterol and hypertension are all targets.
It has been found that treating gum disease will have a positive impact on the management of the disorder too.
Recognized by the WHO as a global epidemic, Type 2 Diabetes affected close to 6% of the world’s adult population in 2010. While the disease wreaks havoc in developed and developing nations, it is uncommon in the underdeveloped world. In general, women seem to be at greater risk than men, a peculiarity which could perhaps be attributed to the role testosterone apparently plays in the suppression of the disease. Children used to fall completely outside at-risk groups in the past. Nowadays though, with the prevalence of sugary drink consumption and the rise of obesity in this group, diabetes has reared its head among the young too.
The bottom line about diabetes prevention and treatment seems to come down to exercise, proper nutrition and an overall healthy lifestyle. After all, these are the factors one can indeed manipulate in his/her favor in this regard. Aerobic exercise as well as anaerobic exercise seem to work well. Alcohol consumption should be avoided too, since alcohol interacts with diabetes medication and it adversely affects the functioning of the liver. Direct links between alcohol and diabetes have surprisingly not been confirmed yet and according to several health authorities, moderate consumption is OK as long as one’s blood sugar levels are kept under control.
The genetics-linked aspect is beyond one’s personal control, so that is nothing more than lottery in this regard.
The treatment and management of diabetes is possible through several avenues, provided it’s Type II diabetes we’re dealing with. Type I is characterized by the complete inability of the pancreas to secrete insulin, and this condition can only be countered through the administration of insulin from outside sources. The Type II variant of the condition and prediabetes in particular, can be countered, reversed, or in the worst case: properly managed.
As said above, lifestyle changes have the biggest impact on the evolution of the disease. Beyond that, quite an impressive range of medication exists too, but there’s quite a bit you can do about diabetes before you reach the stage when prescription medication is indeed required. Lifestyle changes have been credited with a much bigger impact on diabetes than prescription medications.
Diabetic diet is one of the most straightforward ways to move against type II diabetes. Unfortunately, there isn’t really scientific agreement on what constitutes a proper and effective anti-diabetes diet. There is however agreement on which macronutrient has to be targeted to defeat high blood glucose. Carbohydrate is the main culprit here. How big a reduction in carbohydrates an effective anti-diabetes diet should feature is debated though. The recommendations in this regard are mainly aimed at the share of one’s total calorie intake originating from carbohydrates. According to some sources, this share should be within the 20-45% range. Other sources mention limits as wide as 16-75%.
Despite all the confusion in this regard, a few general guidelines can be put forth: the diet should be low in refined carbohydrates and sugar, and it should contain plenty of dietary fiber. Avoiding carbohydrates with a high glycemic index isn’t as straightforward though as one may think. In some cases, when hypoglycemia is present, the opposite is in fact recommended.
Diet-wise, medical authorities have long been warning people not to buy into some of the hype surrounding special diabetes products. That said, there are some products out there the benefits of which are scientifically backed. Maitake mushroom is one such product. It has been proven to disrupt the high blood sugar pathways by inhibiting alpha glucosidase. Reishi mushrooms, Cordyceps and Agrocybe Cylindracea have also been identified as potent blood sugar blasters, though the exact mechanisms by which they act are unknown.
Specific diet types, such as the vegan diet, has also been shown to carry some anti-diabetes benefits.
Other avenues to explore in this regard are those of dietary supplements and complementary and alternative medications (CAMs). Before wading into this subject, we need to caution you that CAM therapy should never be used as replacement for a conventional medical approach.
Some of the most popular CAM-based therapies include garlic, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, chromium, coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid. The latter, also known as lipoic acid, or simply ALA, acts as a sort of vitamin. It exerts its effects as an antioxidant, disrupting a process caused by free radicals known as oxidative stress. High blood sugar levels are major triggers of oxidative stress. The direct link between such high glucose levels and ALA is unclear though. ALA can be found in various foods, such as broccoli, spinach and liver. It is also available in concentrated form, in various capsules and tablets. The downside of ALA is that it may lower blood sugar levels too much. Thus, constant monitoring is a must when it comes to sustained ALA use.
Chromium is a trace element which is found in scores of foods, like various meats, fish, animal fats, tea and brewer’s yeast. It can of course also be acquired as a supplement, in the form of pills. The science behind the benefits of chromium for diabetes sufferers is very shaky though.
Like ALA, Coenzyme Q10 also acts as an antioxidant. Available in various capsule and pill presentations, Q10 is also included in a number of anti-wrinkle, topical cosmetic products, due to its cell-rejuvenating proprieties. Research regarding its effects upon high blood sugar levels is insufficient though, to say the least.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a cheap and highly accessible “remedy,” used for an impressive number of diseases world over. The chemical compound, which is responsible for the strong taste and odor of garlic, allicin, is a mild antibiotic. While there are a handful of studies claiming major diabetes-benefits stemming from garlic consumption, a lot more information needs to be gathered in this regard.
Another trace element, magnesium has been linked to Type II diabetes, in that its levels in the bodies of diabetes-suffers are significantly lower than normal. The logic behind magnesium supplementation is that correcting this deficiency may in fact positively impact the disease. Low levels of magnesium have indeed been shown to promote insulin resistance and to interrupt insulin secretion in the pancreas. While such mechanisms may suggest a positive impact of magnesium supplementation on diabetes, further controlled studies are required to confirm this link. Magnesium is of course widely available as a supplement.
Omega 3 fatty acids have some actual medical literature backing their benefits, and indeed, several national health authorities have included them in their regular intake recommendations. While the benefits of Omega 3s on hardening arteries, heart disease and stroke are accepted, it isn’t certain whether these same effects are present in populations at higher risk, like diabetics, too. Research has also shown that Omega 3s have no effect on fasting blood glucose levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are available as supplements. They can also be acquired from foods like walnuts, wheat germ, soybeans and algae oil.
Currently, there are a number of ongoing studies, targeting various diabetes CAM therapies. One such study is focused on chromium, another has taken aim at Gingko biloba, while a third one is taking a closer look at the effects of yoga.
The monitoring of blood glucose levels is one of the main facets of proper diabetes management. Monitoring is important for several reasons: the action of hypoglycemic agents varies wildly from one formula and one person to another. These lowering effects can last as little as 2 hours, or as much as 24.
Home glucose meters are the go-to solution for most diabetes sufferers, due to their relatively low cost, availability and simplicity in use. There are more than 20 such blood monitoring devices available on the market, and not every one may suit every diabetes patient. The exact type of blood glucose meter best suited for an individual patient is determined by the physician. Training in the use of the said meter is also provided by qualified medical personnel.