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  • The Causes and Consequences of Diabetes

    The Causes and Consequences of Diabetes

    For many people, one of the biggest motivating factors behind improving their health and lifestyle is the threat of diabetes.  Diabetes is debilitating disease affiliated with the pancreas and the body’s natural ability to control blood sugar. it affects over 1.5 million Australians, and 280 new individuals develop diabetes every day.  While the disease can be well managed, and most individuals who are affected go on to live a normal life, there is no cure for diabetes. With that said, many people will deal with it for their entire lifespan.  

    consequences of diabetes

    In many cases, diabetes is brought on by wrong diet and lifestyle choices. However, managing diabetes is possible with the right diet and lifestyle choices. Depending on the type of Diabetes the individual has acquired, the disease may be a genetic or pre-disposed condition, which many researchers call the silent pandemic.  This type of diabetes is affecting thousands of people across Australia, with the number increasing every day.  

    Many people exhibit no outward signs of it, or may not even be diagnosed right away depending on the symptoms.  And while it’s true that many cases may be genetically influenced, or autoimmune related, still many more are diet related, having an onset that is prompted by poor diet, excess sugar and processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle.  

    Understanding each type of diabetes, how to manage it and what you can do to decrease your chances of acquiring this life-altering disease are key parts in prevention, management and leading a normal life. Here’s what you need to know about diabetes:

    What is diabetes?

    Diabetes is a disease which predominately affects the pancreas.  Among other things, the pancreas is responsible for secreting insulin. As its function, insulin is the chemical required to help balance sugar in our bloodstream when we consume sugar via our diet.  The sugar that circulates through the bloodstream is closely monitored and regulated and cannot exceed certain levels. Otherwise, our body cannot use it and process it.  The secretion of insulin is the body’s main means of executing this regulation.

    The Insulin Secretion Process

    To give you an idea, of how it works, in a normal functioning pancreas, when you eat food, the food is broken down as it goes through the digestive system, part of which includes the small intestine.  Linked to the small intestine is the pancreas, which is able to identify how much insulin needs to be secreted, based on the food you ate.  The pancreas secretes the said insulin during the digestive process so that it can be sent into the bloodstream with the sugar and nutrients extracted from the food allowing the blood sugar to be regulated and excess to be stored as necessary.  

    If this insulin secretion does not occur, or the wrong amount is secreted, too much sugar is released or remains in the bloodstream. Such occurrence will inhibit bodily organs and systems from functioning because they are unable to process the high sugar containing blood.  Alternatively, low blood sugar means there is not enough energy to carry out bodily processes and can lead to things such as fainting, dizziness and brain dysfunction.  

    Glucose monitor

    In the case of diabetes, where the pancreas is compromised and insulin is not secreted however, blood sugar can be too high or drop too low with no buffer to bring it back to a healthy level.  This incapacity of the pancreas typically occurs because of an extended period of time excessive insulin release, from a high sugar diet, whereby the pancreas is overworked and can no longer perform its tasks.  Alternatively, receptors that are designed to accept insulin have also become overworked. and are no longer sensitive to insulin when it is in the bloodstream, and eventually become insulin resistant.  

    Image Source: America Diabetes Association

    Types of Diabetes

    It is important to understand that Diabetes occurs in two main types:

    Type I, a genetically or autoimmune influenced type, and

    Type II, the type which is caused by poor diet, obesity, and excessive sugar consumption.  

    The type of Diabetes influences who gets it and when it typically occurs, as detailed below.

    Who is usually affected by diabetes?

    Diabetes can affect any body at any time in their life, including males, females, young, middle age and the elderly.  The onset of Type I diabetes however, is typically between 0 and 14 years of age]. For these particular individuals, it is a non-curable disease that they will battle for the rest of their life, taking daily insulin injections and being constantly vigilant of diet and lifestyle choices.  This Type affects younger individuals because it is an inherent incapacity in the pancrehas. This is not something that is self-inflicted or comes on over time due to diet and lifestyle.

    Type II diabetes is the more variable diagnosis, as this type is influenced by lifestyle, diet and a long term burden on the pancreas.  Given these factors, the prevalence of said type, increases with age and is more common in men than in women. On the other hand, researchers are seeing an increasing number of younger children and teenagers being diagnosed with this disease because of childhood obesity and poor eating habits in young children.

    What causes diabetes?

    At the root of diabetes is the inability for the pancreas to process sugar properly, or the inability to manage insulin properly.  In some instances, this comes from over consumption of sugar, whereby the pancreas is desensitized to sugar. and generating an appropriate response to it. Thus making the pancreas no longer able to respond to sugar consumption.  This typically presents as Type II diabetes.  

    In other cases, diabetes can be developed from childhood, typically occurring as Type I diabetes, whereby the body has an autoimmune reaction to the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, causing the body to attack its own cells and thereby rendering them unable to function.  In either case, the disease can also arise from issues of the pancreas, such as pancreatitis, where the pancreas is not functioning properly, or has been compromised in functionality for a period of time.

    What are the consequences of having diabetes?

    The major consequence of diabetes is the body’s inability to properly process sugar.  This elicits the need for regular insulin injections, and for most people, drastic changes to their diet to support low sugar intake and prevent dysglycemia (high or low blood sugar).  The long term consequences of diabetes however, can be more severe, and especially in cases where diabetes is not properly managed, or where it goes undetected and untreated for an extended period of time.  At the severe end, individuals with chronic diabetes can suffer issues of the kidney, circulatory system, arteries, nervous system and eyes.  

    Many of these issues are related to blood circulation, as persistent high blood glucose levels can impede proper circulation.  This is especially visible in the extremities, such as the toes and feet, and poor blood supply in these areas can result in swelling, ulcers, blood clots and even amputation Along with this, diabetics are more susceptible to high blood pressure, as the presence of diabetes in the body changes the blood chemistry in a compensatory measure in response to the uncontrolled blood glucose levels.  Monitoring blood pressure regularly as well as engaging in preventative measures such as regular exercise and a low sodium diet, become very important as part of a diabetic treatment program.

    Finally, it is important to consider the psychological consequences of diabetes.  This is a demanding disease requiring vigilant monitoring and regular use of needles and injection, which can be a serious cause of stress and anxiety of the affected individual and can often lead to depression and mental health issues in those people affected by the disease.

    How can I prevent or manage diabetes?

    One of the best preventative measures for diabetes is to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle: a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grain complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and plant based proteins.  Regular daily movement and exercise are also important.   The pancreas, the organ most predominately compromised in diabetes is most affected by sugar, including naturally occurring sugar like that in fruit and maple syrup, as well as refined sugar or sugar alternatives.  

    Regulate Sugar Intake

    In order to manage or prevent diabetes, it is important to regulate this sugar intake.  Staying away from foods high in sugar like refined carbohydrate breads, pastas and pastries, products containing refined sugar, like cookies muffins and lollies, and keeping a low intake of foods with natural sugar like fruit is a great place to start.  

    In order to manage or prevent diabetes, it is important to regulate this sugar intake.  

    Increase Intake of Healthy Foods

    The other important component is increasing the intake of healthy foods .

    These kind of diet will nourish the body and help maintain the health of the pancreas and the health of the immune system to be able to fight the disease.  This means that we can prevent diabetes by eating lots of fresh vegetables, and leafy greens in particular. Consuming sources of healthy fat like avocado and coconut oil, as well as plant based proteins like nuts and legumes are the foods to list down.  Consuming complex carbohydrates, encourages proper digestion and regulation of energy. When possible, avoid meat, especially red meat, as this adds an extra burden on the liver -an already overtaxed organ for individuals who suffer from diabetes.  

    Hydrate and Have an Active Lifestyle

    Finally, drink plenty of water and exercise daily to encourage blood flow and improve circulation to help regulate blood sugar levels.

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