What is type 2 diabetes and what can we do to avoid getting it?

This is my dad with Mr 12 (when he wasn’t 12!) My dad had Type 2 Diabetes, so did my grandma (pictured above, with me when I was young-er) and my greatgrandparents! I’d bet everyone reading this knows someone with diabetes!

So what is type 2 diabetes and what can we do to avoid getting it?

Type 2 diabetes is the 6th cause of death in NZ and can cause lots of life threatening complications, such as blindness, kidney failure and ulcers in feet and legs, that can lead to amputation. Scary stuff!!!

Type 2 diabetes is not to be confused with Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease (when the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells of the pancreas). Type 1 is completely genetic and not preventable.

Type 2 Diabetes is, generally considered a “lifestyle” disease and people that get it eat too much “junk” and are “too fat”, which is sometimes the case, but not always!

Other factors, such as the types of foods you are eating, how much exercise you do, increasing age, what your mum ate when she was pregnant with you and your genetics, all play a role in your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

So what is Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes, is caused by the beta cells in the pancreas, getting tired and not working properly. These wee cells release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to the amounts of sugar in the blood (the more sugar in the blood, the more insulin is released). The insulin, is like a key and unlocks the door into our muscle cells (etc) so the sugar can get into the cells of our body. Our cells, for example our muscle and heart cells, use this sugar for energy.

When we get Type 2 Diabetes, our beta cells are tired, they stop being able to respond properly to the amounts of sugar and carbs in our diet and slowly release less and less insulin. We also get insulin resistance, which is when our cells do not respond to insulin, (the insulin can no longer unlock the door to our cells to let the sugar in). So even if you have insulin there, it can’t get the sugar into the cells. This means we get more and more sugar in our blood. High blood sugars is what causes all the symptoms and complications.

Type 2 diabetes IS largely preventable and there are some simple things we can do to help reduce our Diabetes risk:

1. Move more! Exercise helps to push more sugar into our cells and reduces insulin resistance

2. Eat a wholefood based diet. Focus your diet on plants and plant based foods. A wholefood plant based diet reduces your risk of every disease known to man 😉

3. Reduce the amounts of free or added sugars and refined carbohydrates in your diet. Excess sugar in the diet from added sugars (not naturally occurring sugars in fruit or dairy), over a long time, can lead to your beta cells producing less insulin and increases your diabetes risk

If you are worried that you or someone you love, might be Diabetic, or at risk of diabetes:

You can get a simple blood test from your Dr. You can have your HbA1c (a measure of the sugar in your blood over 3 months) tested and/or you can have a fasting glucose test where they get you to drink pure glucose and test the sugar in your blood 2 hours after, to see how your body copes with a sugar load.

Symptoms of diabetes are most commonly extreme thirst and needing to wee a lot. But you may also be hungrier, losing weight without trying or have blurred vision.