New figures from the UK this week show there’s a new diabetes diagnosis every three minutes. It’s a shocking figure – and a really screaming reminder that we need to do more to actively understand this health crisis.

Diabetes UK released these figures and its research found that in 2017 202,665 people were diagnosed with diabetes across England and Wales, which is the equivalent to 23 people every hour.

The research also underlined the connection between the rise in the disease with the increase in obesity.

Statistics from the National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 1.2 million people in Australia suffer from diabetes.

Diabetes can cause a whole host of health problems ranging from sight loss, stroke, kidney failure – and even loss of limbs.

What is diabetes?

There are three types of diabetes:

Type 1 – auto-immune condition not linked to lifestyle, occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin.

Type 2 – progressive condition when body becomes resistant to normal effects of insulin. Is connected to lifestyle risk factors. Strong genetic risk factors. In Australia this represents 85-90 per cent of cases.

Type 3 – gestational diabetes, occurs during pregnancy when glucose levels rise higher than normal.

A common misconception is that you can’t be thin and suffer from type 2 diabetes.

This is far from true, for example, Halle Berry lives with the condition.

“Diabetes turned out to be a gift,” she has said. “It gave me strength and toughness because I had to face reality, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was.”

Type 2 is connected to lifestyle and therefore the type that we can really focus on attempting to address. It usually develops in adults over the age of 45 but is increasingly common in younger age groups. The first signs are often complications caused by the disease itself such as heart attack, vision problems, feeling tired, being excessively thirsty, mood swings, headaches, dry mouth, frequent urination or having cuts that heal slowly.

It is often progressive and most people need to take oral medications or insulin injections.

Type 2 develops over a period of years; it doesn’t just suddenly happen. Rather, it’s a gradual creep. Over this time insulin resistance starts causing the pancreas to respond by producing greater and greater amounts of insulin. As time ticks by the insulin cells in the pancreas wear themselves out. Diabetes Australia says, “By the time someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they have lost 50-70 per cent of their insulin producing cells. This means type 2 diabetes is a combination of ineffective insulin and not enough insulin. When people refer to type 2 diabetes as a progressive condition they are referring to the ongoing destruction of insulin producing cells in the pancreas.”

Several factors can contribute to your likelihood of contracting diabetes such as family history, high blood pressure.

Diabetes can be prevented or delayed by taking action:

  • Eating a more health, low calorie diet.
  • Research shows type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in up to 58 per cent of cases by following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Carefully managing your cholesterol levels.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Being active – regular physical activity really does make a difference.
  • Achieving a healthy weight – being overweight increases your risk.
  • Managing your blood pressure.
  • The disease is being increasingly diagnosed in children.
  • Each state across Australia runs programs and services designed to assist people who are risk of developing diabetes. These include healthy living workshops run by health professionals, education sessions and gym classes. Ask your local GP for more info.
  • A 2010 report by Diabetes UK claims type 2 diabetes reduces life expectancy by around 10 years.
  • The most important food to eat to prevent diabetes are green vegetables. Beans, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit are also good choices.
  • Foods to avoid include sugar-sweetened drinks, white bread, flavoured coffee drinks, trans fats, maple syrup and dried fruit.
  • Bananas are said to reduce blood sugar spikes. A medium sized banana contains around 3 grams of fiber, which is why they are said to be good for diabetics.

Diabetes Australia was established in 1984 and is the national body for people affected by diabetes. Find out more on their website diabetesaustralia.com.au