Diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 – are on the rise in Australia, and globally. Over one third of children today are expected to experience type 2 diabetes in their lifetime!
Whilst treatment is improving and mortality rates declining, the quality of life in diabetes is an issue – specifically the impact of disability. Due to nerve ending and blood vessel damage, blood glucose running rampant results in poor circulation, energy and cognition, heart disease, overweight, loss of eyesight and amputation among a myriad of other side effects.
The impact of diabetes on quality and length of life
Researchers from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne collated data from the 2012 Australian Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, to ascertain rates of disability and diabetes respectively.3
Results, published in Diabetologia in 2016, showed both men and women with diabetes are likely to have shorter life expectancy and increased years with a form of disability. Basically, living less and less well.
Specifically, from 50 years of age:
- 60% of women with diabetes are expected to have a disability, compared with 40% of non-diabetic women.
- 58% of men with diabetes are expected to have a disability, compared with 38% of non-diabetic men.
- Disability free years are expected to drop by 8.2 years and 9.1 years, in a 30 and 34 year life expectancy, for men and women respectively,
- 3 years less life expectancy on average, in both diabetic men and women compared with non-diabetic counterparts.
Australian indigenous groups, and similarly with those around the globe, offer clear examples of the ramifications of diabetes; specifically, type 2 diabetes.
Following exposure to heavily refined, high sugar, cheaply made foods over recent decades (a very short space of time evolutionarily speaking), bodies are not coping with the onslaught of sugars, leaving blood glucose levels running high. Therefore type 2 diabetes:
- is 3-5 times more common than in non-indigenous Australians;
- is the second leading cause of death;
- affects the 39% of the indigenous population with diabetes after age 55, compared with 16% of the non-indigenous population after age 65;
- causes a worse quality life, overall.1;2
So, with the side effects previously mentioned being associated with diabetes, and the condition rising in prevalence, studies like this are very important to inform policy makers. There is great need to prioritise health campaigns and interventions aimed at reducing the incidence, the associated disability, and the individual and national burden of diabetes – now and into the future.
But it needn’t be all doom and gloom! Whilst not the case for all diabetic individuals, there are many who can successfully treat the condition – reducing and possibly ridding symptoms altogether.
Not all diabetes are equal
Let us make an important distinction. There are 3 main types of diabetes – Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, affecting 10% of the diabetic population in Australia. The immune system of Type 1 diabetic individuals attacks the insulin producing beta-cells in the pancreas, meaning less and less insulin can be produced to take glucose in blood and make it available to cells for energy. The degradation of beta-cell function can be inherited or triggered by external factors such as diet or infection.
In this case, insulin needs to be administered for life.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is largely life style induced, and comprises 85% of the diabetic population. Previously known as ‘adult onset’ diabetes, Type 2 mellitus is now being seen in people of all ages, beginning as insulin resistance, where body cells refuse the call of insulin due to barrage of request from insulin to constantly hand over glucose. Eventually, having faced too much rejection, the production of insulin tires.
Fortunately, Type 2 diabetes may be reversed. Depending on the extent of the damage, the effectiveness of insulin to move glucose from the blood into cells can be improved, and damage repaired, with the right foods, treatment and lifestyle.
Finally, gestational diabetes arising in pregnancy is becoming more common, and whilst it increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes post partum, it isn’t guaranteed if managed well.
So in our discussions around diabetes, we understand that there are some who have a type of diabetes that can only be monitored and medicated to ensure life quality and function. For a majority, diabetes can be stopped and even reversed, by making a choice to eat well and move lots. This is great news!
What you can do
Here are ideas to consider in managing Type 2 diabetes – but as always, please consult with your healthcare practitioner to work out what is right for you.
- Eat right
Reduce processed food and refined sugar consumption, focusing on low GI and GL whole foods.
Garlic, onion, cinnamon and fenugreek are all thought to help boost insulin sensitivity.
- Nourish yourself
Eat lean protein at every meal (a mixture of plant and animal sources), and indulge in having at least half your plate filled with low GI/GL veg.
- Get strong
More muscle mass boosts insulin sensitivity and muscle cell metabolism – so get moving!
- Seek supportive treatments
Counselling, meditation, medication, herbs and supplements may assist. Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommendations and to ensure the correct dose and for good quality.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, ‘Diabetes’, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First results, 2012-13, viewed 18 April 2016.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012, ‘Diabetes Mellitus’, Australian Health Survey: First results, 2012-13, viewed 18 April 2016.
- Huo, L Shaw, JE Wong, E Harding, JL Peeters, A Magliano, DJ 2016, ‘Burden of diabetes in Australia: life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy in adults with diabetes’, Diabetologia, pp1-9 [Epub ahead of print].