When the temperature drops over winter, many of us find ourselves craving extra food, with some of our appetites going through the roof. For those of us with a sweet tooth, that can lead to an increase in our blood sugar levels, and if it stays too high, can increase our risk of developing diabetes.
There are three major forms of diabetes (type 1, type 2 and gestational) but the biggest concern is over the most prevalent, which is type 2 diabetes, which can be affected by our lifestyles.
Type 1 diabetes forms in childhood and occurs if the body's immune system destroys the cells which release insulin and as a result, stops the body from being able to manage blood glucose we use to make energy.
Type 2 diabetes forms in adulthood in most cases, although there are growing numbers of children with the condition, too. This occurs when the body is unable to use the insulin it produces in the right way, and if it gets worse, the pancreas may produce less and less insulin, leading to a deficiency.
There are believed to be around three million people in the UK with diabetes, with 2.8 million of them having type 2 diabetes. It is thought there are another 850,000 who have the condition without realising it, (1) and while these numbers are concerning, they don't quite paint the whole picture.
When we also examine pre-diabetes, sometimes known as borderline diabetes, it brings everything into a sharper focus. Pre-diabetes is when blood sugar levels are abnormally high but outside the threshold a doctor would use to diagnose diabetes.
The figures published in the Health Survey for England of 20141 suggested that half of adults over 40 in England are likely to be pre-diabetic, with one in three adults of all ages likely to be affected, too. Risk factors shown from this study included our age (being 40 and over), having a BMI of over 25, having high blood pressure and being of south Asian ethnicity.
The number of cases of type 2 diabetes is growing largely thanks to our lifestyle. Carrying extra body weight, not eating healthily and not getting enough exercise are all contributing factors to the development of the condition. Indeed, losing five per cent of our bodyweight and keeping physically active can more than halve the risk of type 2 diabetes.
If you are worried about either diabetes or pre-diabetes, you can speak to your doctor to arrange a blood test. Type 2 diabetes has a number of symptoms, although they can take a while to become noticeable. These include:
- Feeling tired throughout the day, especially after meal times
- Feel hungry soon after eating
- Find you are urinating more than normal, especially at night
- Feel excessively thirsty
- Itchy skin and genitals
- Your vision is blurred
- If wounds and cuts take a long time to heal
- Find you are losing weight or muscle suddenly and unintentionally
- Are developing yeast or skin infections on a regular basis.
There are steps that can be taken to naturally improve our blood glucose control that can help whether a person has diabetes or not. These include maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active, as well as managing stress levels and getting enough sleep.
Increasing the amount of fibre eaten and swapping refined carbohydrates for alternatives containing more wholegrain is also beneficial to controlling blood glucose.