Type 2 Diabetes

What is type 2 diabetes? What are the symptoms? What are the main risk factors? How can we reduce the risk of getting it?

How serious a disease is diabetes?

If you have diabetes you have up to a five times greater risk of heart disease or stroke.

If not treated and managed properly diabetes can lead to other complications. These can include nerve damage, damage to your eyesight, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction and miscarriage. And around 1 in 10 people with diabetes will get a foot ulcer, which can cause a serious infection and even amputation. 

So what is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin appropriately.

Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use.

Type 2 diabetes not only affects the pancreas (where the insulin is produced). It also affects other organs such as the liver, skeletal muscle, fatty tissue, gastrointestinal tract, brain, peripheral nerves, eyes and kidneys.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of diabetes before diagnosis include feeling very thirsty and tired, sudden weight loss, urinating frequently particularly at night, slow healing of cuts and wounds, blurred vision and itching around the genital area with frequent thrush.

What are the main risk factors?

If you are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30, or obese with a BMI greater than 30, you are at increased risk of diabetes.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being over 40, or over 25 if you’re black or Asian
  • having a close family member (parent, brother or sister) who has type 2 diabetes
  • being south Asian or African-Caribbean; these ethnic groups are five times more likely to get type 2 diabetes
  • having had gestational diabetes (diabetes that lasts for the duration of a pregnancy)
  • having been told you have impaired fasting glycaemia or impaired glucose tolerance

If you have any of these risk factors, you should maintain a healthy weight to ensure that your risk of diabetes doesn't increase further.

There’s also a possibility that a low testosterone level could indicate you’re at increased risk.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed if you’re able to lose a lot of weight within four years of developing diabetes. That’s according to 2011 research from Newcastle University.

Statins and Diabetes

Statins, are widely used to help prevent cardiovascular disease. They had also been used to prevent and help treat potential complications of diabetes. However, in 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration amended its guidance on the use of statins. This followed research suggesting that statins might sometimes increase the risk of diabetes.

Diabetes and Age

Age is a risk factor. Around 25% of over 65s have type 2 diabetes. As with younger and middle aged people with diabetes there is an increased risk of illness and death. However, where people develop type 2 diabetes over the age of 65 it appears to be less severe and easier to control.  

How to reduce the risks of developing type 2 diabetes: 

There are some risks we unfortunately can’t avoid, like age and some ethnic origins. However, the good news is that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk whatever our age or background. 

  • Maintaining a healthy weight will help you avoid one of the biggest risk factors.
  • Eating cereals and vegetables rich in fibre appears to reduce the risk – according to an 8 country research project over nearly 11 years, published in 2015.
  • 30 minutes of physical activity a day can also help reduce the risk (as can a healthy diet) - according to a systematic review of research findings published in 2014 
  • Eating more yoghurt and other low fat fermented dairy products can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 24 – 28%. That’s according to researchers at Cambridge University, who followed 25,000 participants over 11 years.  

“At a time when we have a lot of other evidence that consuming high amounts of certain foods, such as added sugars and sugary drinks, is bad for our health, it is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health,” said lead researcher Dr Forouhi.

Conclusions

  • The main risk factors for type 2 diabetes are being overweight or obese, getting older, having a family history of diabetes, being black or Asian and some specific medical conditions (like having diabetes throughout pregnancy).
  • Losing a lot of weight after diagnosis may help reverse type 2 diabetes.
  • Fortunately you can reduce the risk of getting type 2 diabetes if you: maintain a healthy weight; eat fibre rich cereals and vegetables; eat yoghurt and low fat fermented dairy products; and aim for 30minutes of physical activity a day.

Published 12/04/2011. Updated and reviewed by Kayhan Nouri-Aria May 2015. Next review date April 2018.

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