Diabetes is a disease that has devastating consequences. In addition to increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, it is a major cause of blindness, amputation and kidney failure. According to the Nigerian Diabetes Foundation, Nigeria has the highest rates of diabetes in Africa and given the nutrition transition in which we are giving up our healthy traditional diets and lifestyles for inferior western based eating and exercise habits, the rates are only anticipated to increase.
The good news is that most cases of diabetes can be prevented but first you must know the risk factors.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to process glucose (sugar), the preferred source of energy. This happens because the body is unable to make a hormone called insulin or does not make enough of it. Insulin helps glucose enter the cells so that you can have fuel for everything from breathing to running a marathon.
Types of diabetes.
The 3 most common forms of diabetes are:
1. Type 1 Diabetes (T1D): Previously known as Juvenile Onset Diabetes or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM), this form of diabetes occurs when the body does not make any insulin at all. It is commonly seen in children and young adults. Individuals suffering from Type 1 diabetes require regular doses of insulin.
2. Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) is the most common form of diabetes and it occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or resists the insulin that it makes. It does not always require supplemental doses of insulin and was once called Adult Onset Diabetes because it was mainly seen in adults. Our changing diets and lifestyles have spurred a change and there are now numerous cases of T2D in children, some as young as 7. This form of diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise but in some cases, medication may be needed.
3. Gestational Diabetes is a pregnancy-related form of diabetes with symptoms that usually disappear soon after delivery. It is estimated that 50% of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes will suffer from Type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years.
Symptoms of Diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes are not always apparent and so it can go undetected for a long time. Often times, a diagnosis is made at a medical check-up or when an individual suffers a complication of the disease. There are however some warning signs:
Are you at risk?
You are at increased risk of developing diabetes if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Aged 45 or greater
- Have an immediate family member who has ever been diagnosed with diabetes
- Are overweight or obese and/or are a man with a waist circumference over 102 cm (40.2 inches) or a woman whose waist measures over 88cm (34.6 inches)
- Exercise less than a total of 150 minutes a week
- Follow an unhealthy diet
- You ever had or been diagnosed with one of the following risk factors:
Decrease Your Risk
The good news is that while diabetes is a very serious condition, it can be prevented or at the very least controlled to delay its onset. You can do this by:
1. Losing weight: If you are overweight, a weight loss of 5-7% of your current weight can be beneficial. Lose weight by avoiding fad diets and quick fixes. Rather, make small, purposeful changes in your diet and physical activity.
2. Being physically active: Engage in at least 30-45 minutes of aerobic activity at least 3-5 days of the week. The activity and intensity of the workout you choose must raise your pulse such that you are unable to carry a conversation without being out of breath.
3. Choosing a healthy diet that includes a wide variety of food. Be sure to add colourful fruits and vegetables and avoid foods that are processed, fried, high in fat or have added sugars. Save money and take control of what is in your food by eating out less and doing your own cooking at home.
4. Since heart disease is a contributing cause of diabetes, decrease your risk by taking care of some of the causes of heart disease:
5. Knowing your numbers. The key to successful prevention and treatment outcomes lies in getting to see a doctor early enough to stop diabetes and prevent complications. See your medical provider as often as possible and follow the advice given on how you can improve your diet and lifestyle.
Finally, while having diabetes can be frustrating and scary, it is not a death sentence. People with diabetes can live full, healthy lives by managing their blood sugars through carefully planned diets complimented with regular physical activity. Also, be sure to follow the advice given by medical providers.
Here’s to your health.
Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.
Alexandra Fiman Maul, MPH