Diabetes, often called the 'silent pandemic,' is a global health concern. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, and it causes 1.5 million deaths each year.
As per the reports in the International Diabetes Federation, in the MENA Region, 73 million people have diabetes, and the number is expected to reach 135.7 million by 2045. In the UAE, there are more than 990,900 cases of diabetes in adults. While these numbers may raise concerns, let's take a closer look at diabetes, its various types, underlying causes, prevention strategies, and lifestyle adjustments for a healthier future.
What Is Diabetes
Diabetes is a long-lasting health condition that affects how your body transforms food into energy. When we eat, our body breaks down food into sugar (glucose) and releases it into the blood. When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin, acting like a key to allow sugar into cells for energy. In diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or can't use it effectively. This leads to high blood sugar levels, causing serious health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney issues over time.
There are a lot of myths around Diabates, and debunking a few of them, Dr Shipra Patil, Specialist Internal Medicine at Dubai London Hospital, said, “Never believe if people say that if you have Type 2 diabates, you’ll always know from the symptoms you experience. Type 2 diabetes is a slow-progressing disease, and many people don’t notice symptoms.”
Dr Shipra Patil from Dubai London Hospital also said that diabetes is not restricted to fat people, it’s not just overweight or obesity that matters in diabetes. You may be lean, but you have belly fat, which predisposes you to diabetes.”
Types Of Diabetes
Diabetes is categorised into several types, which include Type 1, Type 2, Gestational Diabetes, and Prediabetes. Let's understand the symptoms and types of diabetes.
Type 1 Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where your immune system targets the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas without a known cause. It can be detected at any age but is more common in children and young adults.
Type 2 In Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't produce sufficient insulin, and your body's cells don't respond well to insulin (called insulin resistance). This type is most common in adults but can also affect children. Type 2 diabetes is often avoidable, and factors like excess weight, lack of physical activity, and genetics play a role in its development. According to the WHO, more than 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes was formerly called non-insulin-dependent, or adult onset.
Gestational Diabetes Gestational diabetes is common in pregnant women who have never had diabetes before. If you develop gestational diabetes, it may pose potential health risks for your baby. Typically, gestational diabetes disappears after childbirth, but it raises your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.
Prediabetes Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet at the level of Type 2 diabetes. It increases your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, by making lifestyle changes, you can manage and control it.
What Causes Diabetes
Diabetes occurs when there is an excess of glucose in your blood, regardless of the specific type. Major factors contributing to diabetes include insulin resistance, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances, unhealthy lifestyle choices, excess abdominal fat, and genetic mutations.
“Diabetes symptoms are fairly well-known. Those include dry mouth, frequent urination, excessive thirst, fatigue, recurrent tingling, blurring of vision and un-intentional weight loss. For the general population, diabetes -type 2- screening by blood tests should start at 35. However, for higher
risk patients, screening starts earlier. Earlier screening is advocated for overweight, obese or sedentary patients or those with high blood pressure, polycystic ovaries, abnormal cholesterol profile and more, explains Dr Ahmed Shehata from Mediclinic Middle East.
If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to monitor yourself and promptly seek medical attention without delay.
Talking more about the symptoms, Dr Juliana Korth, Internal Medicine Specialist at Allied Medical Centre said, “Diabetes can give you no symptoms, almost no symptoms or many symptoms. It all depends on the age and comorbidities (associated illnesses) that one has. It can range from fatigue, poor wound healing to problems in the eyes, kidneys, heart, brain and extremities (arms and legs). Hence, anyone with symptoms or increased risk factors (overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, should get tested, and all pregnant women should get tested for diabetes regardless of risk factors or symptoms.”
Dr Juliana Korth at Allied Medical Centre also added, “According to the American Diabetes Association, all patients should be screened for diabetes at a three-year interval beginning at the age of 45 regardless of symptoms and risk factors.”
Type 1 diabetes is typically not preventable as it results from immune system issues. However, for Type 2 diabetes, there are lifestyle adjustments you can make to prevent and manage it.
1. Maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercises like walking, running, dancing, or cycling each week if five times a week workout is not feasible.
2. Adopt a balanced diet. Occasional indulgence in junk food is okay, but avoid making it a habit. Incorporate more fibre, vegetables, nuts, and protein into your meals, and stay away from saturated fats, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates.
3. Pay attention to portion sizes. Eat smaller, well-controlled portions every two hours.
4. If you’re overweight or obese, consult a nutritionist and work towards achieving a healthy weight. Diabetes patients should also seek guidance from a nutritionist to create a tailored diet plan based on their daily calorie requirements.
To ensure that you lead a healthy lifestyle despite having diabetes, you must adhere to the triad heathy diet, exercises and medication. To this, Dr Juliana Korth at Allied Medical Centre adds, “You should also have a glucometer at home and check your blood sugars (HbA1C) at least every 3 months to make the necessary adjustments. It is estimated that at least 50% of all patients living with diabetes do not achieve adequate glycemic control, and that is what leads to blindness, amputations, strokes, kidney failure and heart attacks.”
Dr Ahmed Shehata from Mediclinic Middle East said, “Diabetes Mellitus type 2 is a result of a genetic predisposition, unhealthy habits and environmental factors. Intensive lifestyle intervention could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by around 60% over 3 years. Moderate exercise (like brisk walking) at least 150 minutes weekly has a positive impact on sugar control as well as weight loss of approximately 7% (through a well-balanced calorie restricted diet). “
Speaking more about food habits, Dr Ahmed Shehata from Mediclinic Middle East, added, “Habits as simple as breaking prolonged sitting time are associated with lower sugar excursions post meals. Besides, emphasis should be on increasing whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables and reducing/cutting down refined and processed foods.”
A healthy lifestyle with good nutrition can help you lead a good life and control you sugar levels.
On this, Dr Shipra Patil of Dubai London Hospital added, “Nutrition plays an important role in the management of diabetes. Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are associated with significant reductions in diabetes incidence and risk. The Mediterranean diet consists of fish, sea food, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes, with moderate alcohol consumption.”