With one of the highest life expectancies in the world, many Australians consider themselves in good health.
So it might be surprising to learn that nearly 1 in 2 Australians (47%) live with one or more chronic conditions and 20% live with 2 or more. This includes conditions such as arthritis, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart, lung and kidney disease (and many more).
1.5 million Australians are officially registered as living with type 2 diabetes, while another half a million are believed to be affected but don’t even know it (overall, that’s 1 in 20 Australians).
To put it into perspective, there are more cases of type 2 diabetes in Australia than people living in the entire state of South Australia!
More alarmingly, the number of cases in Australia of type 2 diabetes increased almost three-fold between 2000 and 2020.
Is it possible that not all Australians are as healthy as they could be?
It’s not just type 2 diabetes that’s a worry
Having consistently high blood sugars over a long period can damage your blood vessels which greatly increases your risk of diabetes-related complications. Keeping blood sugar and blood pressure under control will hugely help to reduce your risk of developing complications. You can prevent or delay the complications of diabetes, but you need to take action and manage your condition well. I’ve shared below some of the more common complications of type 2 diabetes.
1. Heart disease and stroke
When you’re living with type 2 diabetes, your risk of heart disease or stroke is four times greater.
When someone dies from heart disease, it’s not a sudden event. They’ve almost always lived through a slow series of health failures, with the lungs and tissues becoming waterlogged with fluid, leading to eventual failure of the heart.
Strokes can lead to paralysis and loss of brain function. If you suffer a stroke, you may lose the ability to complete actions controlled by the brain. For instance, a stroke can affect your ability to speak, eat, think and remember, and lose control of bodily functions. What if that were you?
2. Kidney disease
Type 2 diabetes is also the biggest cause of kidney disease in Australia. High blood sugar levels and high blood pressure can cause damage to your kidneys over time, making it harder to clear fluid and waste from your body.
The reality for many is simply existing in poor health day to day while on a transplant waitlist, relying on 20 hours of kidney dialysis per week just to stay alive. This is life for more than 5,000 Australians.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of type 2 diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It’s the most common cause of preventable blindness in Australia today.
For a small number of people, diabetic retinopathy can reach a stage where the only option is to remove your eye. It’s rare, but it does happen. What if that were you?
Defeat Diabetes Medical Advisor Dr James Muecke, opthalmologist, says, “Words cannot describe how it feels for an eye surgeon such as myself to remove a person’s eye. I become an eye surgeon to protect sight, to restore sight, to give the gift of sight – not to take it away. And especially, not to take it away from somebody who has been needlessly blinded by an avoidable man-made disease such as type 2 diabetes.”
He added, “When 98 per cent of the blindness due to diabetes is preventable or treatable, this is one complication we should not be seeing in Australia.”
Type 2 diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the feet so much that long-standing infections that can resist even the most powerful antibiotics available are common in addition to chronic pain. Open sores (ulcers) are common, and rotting flesh is characteristic of gangrene in more extreme cases.
Sadly, once someone reaches this stage, they often require the affected body part to be amputated to avoid the infection spreading throughout the body, which could be deadly.
Don’t think these amputations are limited to removing a toe or two. While surgeons remove as little tissue as possible, usually beginning with one or more toes, the process can and often does ascend to the limb. Amputation of the whole forefoot or ankle, even progressing up to the knee and beyond, is not uncommon.
The process of repeated surgical amputation is sometimes referred to as ‘nibbling away’, and the reality is as unpleasant as you might imagine. Sadly it’s an unfortunate reality for more than 4,400 Australians yearly due to diabetes.
The risk of diabetes is real
The number of Australians diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is just the tip of the iceberg. Two million Australians have pre-diabetes, and one in three people with pre-diabetes goes on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Obesity is another great concern. The number of overweight adults in Australia now outnumbers those with a healthy weight by 2 to 1. That’s right. More than twice as many Australians are overweight than are a healthy weight.
Every Australian living with (or at risk of) type 2 diabetes is staring down the barrel of a personal health crisis. That is no exaggeration.
The risk of diabetes is real!
The good news is in many cases, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. However, until we wake up and take type 2 diabetes seriously, we’re stumbling into an even bigger disaster.
It’s time to stop the denial
When discussing the risk of diabetes with patients, I’m often met with dismissal. “Well, you have to die of something”, they’ll say while shrugging it off.
Yes. You do have to die of something. But you don’t want to die of type 2 diabetes because diabetes-related deaths can be slow and painful. Dying with diabetes is not pretty. A quick and painless death is something everyone wishes for, but it’s never a guarantee.
And while we can’t choose how we die, we can choose how we live.
The consequences can be dire if your diabetes is badly managed or left untreated.
Going to the extreme
There’s a common misconception that low carbohydrate diets are extreme or restrictive. That’s not the case, and it annoys me to hear of people with type 2 diabetes being advised to steer clear of low carb diets.
Avoiding lollies, fruit juice, pasta, and rice is not extreme. Consider it, if anything, a slight inconvenience that can help avoid the serious consequences of poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.
When I think about “extreme”, it’s not a diet that reduces carbohydrates in favour of satiating fats and muscle-building protein; it’s:
- Transplanting someone else’s kidney into your body.
- Living in a nursing home, unable to enjoy a healthy life.
- Losing your independence.
- Having a surgeon remove rotting body parts.
- … You get the point.
Choosing to live (putting your health first)
When you’re living with pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes or another chronic disease, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate the benefits of carbohydrate restriction (low carb).
Research has shown that carbohydrate restriction can reliably send around 50% of cases of type 2 diabetes into remission.
And even if you cannot achieve remission, working towards a healthier lifestyle will certainly reduce the severity of diabetes-related complications.
So if you or someone you know has been diagnosed or is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the time to act is NOW.
Gain control while you still have your vision, your kidneys are still functioning, before you have a stroke or a heart attack.
I’m not out to scare you, but as a medical professional who has seen the best and worst of it, the best advice I can offer is “don’t let your diabetes control you”.