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Dr. Peter Brukner OAM7 min read

What is type 2 diabetes?

There are currently 1.3 million Australians living with type 2 diabetes, with one person diagnosed every five minutes. With this number on the rise and conditions such as heart disease becoming more common, there’s never been a more important time for Australian’s to take control of their health.

But first, what exactly is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where there is too much sugar, namely glucose, in the blood. And this excess sugar can damage the blood vessels of many different organs throughout our body, including our heart, brain and eyes.

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Starchy carbohydrates are quite literally made of glucose and once digested, this glucose will enter the blood. When we’re in good health, our pancreas can release a hormone called insulin which can remove excess glucose from our bloodstream, storing it in our fat, muscles and liver. In someone with diabetes, however, insulin fails to work normally, leaving a higher than normal amount of glucose in the blood.

This is called insulin resistance. Our muscle and live tissues are particularly affected by insulin resistance. Glucose can continue to be stored as fat even as its use for energy by the liver and muscles is impaired. Hence insulin resistance is strongly associated with obesity.

In more advanced diabetes, the pancreas which releases insulin is damaged, further compounding the problem of insulin resistance. The combined effect of impaired insulin function and reduced insulin release means that even a small meal of starchy carbs can cause very high blood glucose levels.

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This is why foods such as potatoes, pasta, bread and rice, even unprocessed varieties, can be such a problem in those with diabetes. The glucose contained within these foods enters the blood and remains there for longer than usual. Insulin resistance is thus at the heart of type 2 diabetes.

Of course, we aren’t born with insulin resistance. Nor is it a part of normal ageing. But it can be caused in large part by diet. The two major dietary contributors to insulin resistance are sugars and vegetable oils, both extremely common in processed foods. This is one reason why low carb fresh whole food diets, as with the Defeat Diabetes Program, are far healthier than the standard Australian diet.

So what are the risk factors and symptoms of type 2 diabetes? And how should we manage it? Keep reading as we break down exactly what you need to know.

Risk factors

Of course, there are different degrees of insulin resistance. In its earliest stages, someone might be said to be pre-diabetic. The symptoms of pre-diabetes are not as obvious and without specific testing, it may easily be missed. If left untreated, however, it often progresses to type 2 diabetes, and should not be ignored.

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One risk factor for type 2 diabetes which we have no control over is our family history. Having a relative with type 2 diabetes indicates we are at greater than average risk. It’s important to understand, however, that genetics is not fate.

This means that while we may indeed have a heightened risk, there’s a lot that we can still do to reduce our risk, potentially avoiding it altogether. Key amongst these are ensuring we look after our diet, sleep and exercise habits - three key facets of the Defeat Diabetes Program soundly supported by science.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

Because high levels of glucose can be delivered around the body in our blood, diabetes can cause many different types of disease.

  • Increased urination and thirst: Despite the large amount of sugar in the blood, insulin resistance means it is not able to be efficiently utilised for energy, leading to feelings of fatigue. One consequence of the high glucose levels in the blood is that extra fluid is drawn from the body, and into the urine. Excessive urination, often accompanied by thirst is therefore commonly experienced by those with high blood glucose levels.
  • Recurrent infections: High blood glucose levels also directly impair the functioning of the immune system. This means that infections such as bladder infections, tinea and thrush are quite common in those with diabetes.
  • Vision problems: The eye is especially vulnerable to complications from diabetes, with several conditions potentially leading to blindness all more common in those with diabetes. This is why diabetes is the most common cause of blindness in Australia today.
  • Nerve damage: High levels of blood glucose can also damage nerves, potentially causing permanent nerve damage. This is often experienced as numbness in the hands and feet, one early symptom in males being erectile dysfunction.

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And while not symptoms as such, darkening of the skin, or skin tags, often seen around the neck, armpits or groin, are frequently seen in those with diabetes, and should not be ignored.

Finally, excess glucose is both converted to, and stored as fat, explaining why obesity is a major problem for many people with diabetes.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you could have diabetes, which can double your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Diagnosis

So you’ve noticed some possible pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes symptoms. Now what? The first thing to do is to see your doctor for a blood test, which will help provide an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms.

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Some of the tests might include:

  • Haemoglobin A1C test (known as HbA1c): This shows the average blood glucose levels for the previous two or three months. This will be high in type 2 diabetes.
  • Fasting plasma glucose test: This test measures how much glucose is in your plasma. You may need to fast for eight hours before having it.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test: During this test, your blood is drawn three times: before, one hour after, and two hours after you drink a dose of glucose. The test results show how well your body deals with glucose.

Treatments and medications

There is significant evidence to show that a healthy fat, low carbohydrate diet can help manage type 2 diabetes. One study, in particular, showed participants who went on this diet saw a much greater reduction in their HbA1c (compared to other management methods), significantly more weight loss and 100% of participants were able to come off medication.

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Similarly, this study concluded that a healthy fat, low carbohydrate diet achieved better blood glucose stability and reduction in medication requirements than a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

These are just some of the reasons why the Defeat Diabetes Program recommends going on a low carb, healthy fat diet to help send your type 2 diabetes into remission.

By incorporating foods like olive and coconut oils, as well as full-fat butter, full-fat dairy and healthy fats like avocado, seafood, nuts and seeds into your diet, your body will feel full and you’ll be setting yourself up for fat burning.

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We also recommend reducing sugary fruits, starchy carbohydrates, increasing your exercise, limiting alcohol and ensuring a good amount of refreshing sleep.

The latest nutritional science shows that this approach on a program such as Defeat Diabetes, and with the guidance of your doctor, can help successfully put type 2 diabetes into remission.

Management

Diet aside, doctors and physicians recommend a variety of ways to help send type 2 diabetes into remission.

You’ll also want to keep your doctor in the loop and have regular appointments to monitor blood glucose levels.

Other factors to consider are:

  • A support system: Whether it’s your family, your friends or other Defeat Diabetes community members, having people you can talk to about your journey is important to keep motivation and determination high.
  • Reduce stress: Stress is inescapable, but how we deal with it can have a huge impact on our health. When we’re stressed, parts of our immune system are temporarily suppressed; so constant states of stress can lead to a greater risk of things such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Try taking time out for yourself, whether that’s listening to music, going for a walk, socialising with a friend or finding a new hobby.
  • Get better quality sleep: We need deep sleep to replace and repair muscle and bone, as well as helping our hormones remain balanced. Aim for 8 hours a night.
  • Meditation: Meditation looks different for everyone; some people like moving meditation like the methodical nature of chopping vegetables, whilst others like to sit cross-legged and still their minds. But taking just 10 minutes a day to sit quietly can help decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. You can even do it on a work break.
  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, as well as help your cells better deal with insulin. You might like to try yoga, which has been proven to decrease stress, improve sleep and immune function and reduce food cravings.
  • Being kind to yourself: We’re all human, and we all slip up from time to time. Managing your type 2 diabetes means recognising that small setbacks aren’t the end of the world, and you can keep trying.

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The team at Defeat Diabetes, supported by the latest evidence and a medical advisory panel of dietitians and doctors, believe diet is the single most important element in managing type 2 diabetes.

If you’d like to know more or would like to share your success story, drop us a line in the ‘Help’ box below or at hello@defeatdiabetes.com.au.

Join Australia's first evidence-based and doctor-led program transforming the health of Australians. Download the Defeat Diabetes app today.

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