Ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14 November, experts from Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC) and Mubadala Health’s Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICDLC) are encouraging members of the community to take charge of their health and avoid or delay developing type 2 diabetes by changing their lifestyle habits.
While the awareness message is focused on prevention, the experts stress that even if a person has already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is never too late to take up exercising and healthy eating habits as these steps can potentially reverse or at least help to manage the condition.
HE Dr Omniyat Al Hajeri, Executive Director of Community Health Sector in Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, explains that diabetes type 2 is the most common form of diabetes by far, and unlike the autoimmune type-1 diabetes, type 2 is classified as a lifestyle disease. “In type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin – a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells – or it doesn't produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. There are many factors that can increase your chances of developing the disease, but the good news is that there are multiple easy and affordable measures you can take to delay or avoid developing diabetes type 2,” she says.
Dr Emad George, a consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist who is Medical Director of ICLDC, says: “While we recognize that being overweight or inactive are in themselves independent risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are also very important in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes in those who are at greater risk of developing this condition, such as those with a family history of type 2 diabetes, women with a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes or women known to have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).”
According to the two experts, following the tips for avoiding or lowering the risk of type-2 diabetes is crucial for long-term health. HE Dr Omniyat Al Hajeri, says: “Although long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually, they can eventually be disabling or even life-threatening. Some of the potential complications of diabetes include heart and blood vessel disease; sleep apnoea; nerve damage and slow healing that can eventually require amputation of limbs; and damage to the kidneys, eyesight and hearing. It is, therefore, very important to do our best to avoid developing diabetes and, if it does develop, then monitoring and managing the condition very carefully.”
Dr George adds that centres such as ICLDC are able to screen patients for type-2 diabetes and that if patients have reason to believe they might have high blood sugar or diabetes, they should not hesitate to consult a doctor. “Some of the most common signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections. However, the problem is that the symptoms often develop slowly and people could have type 2 diabetes for years and not know it. This is why we advise specific groups to undergo testing in our top 10 tips,” he says.
The experts agree that the advice given in their tips can also be beneficial to those already diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, as it can help to manage the condition.
Dr George adds: “At ICLDC, we have a diabetes remission clinic that focuses on using dietary strategies and weight loss to help patients send their diabetes into remission. Remission, here, is defined as a state where the patient will not have type 2 diabetes, will not need diabetes medications, and will have normal results on the HBA1c test that measures the average level of blood sugar over the past two to three months. The more recently the patient was diagnosed, the better the results will be. We do not yet know how long a remission of type 2 diabetes will last, but the key is maintaining the weight loss, and possibly losing more weight at a later stage,”
Top 10 tips to prevent type 2 diabetes:
1. Get your blood glucose levels checked: Before patients develop diabetes, they can have high blood sugar levels or ‘pre-diabetes’, and at this stage, the condition could be reversed through lifestyle changes. If you are aged 45 or older, or are in any of the risk categories such as being overweight, or having a family history of diabetes type 2 or past diagnoses of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), see your doctor for blood tests, and be sure to go back for any follow-up tests indicated.
2. Exercise regularly: Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels, help you lose weight, and boost your insulin sensitivity, which can keep your blood sugar at an acceptable level. Aim for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity – or 15 to 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity – on most days. Take a brisk daily walk, ride a bike, or swim laps. If you can't fit in a long, single workout, spread shorter periods of exercise throughout the day.
3. Add resistance training to your exercise programme: Try supplementing your aerobic exercise activities with yoga, weightlifting or other types of resistance training two to three times a week. This will help you to maintain a generally active lifestyle as it increases your strength, stamina and balance.
4. Avoid long periods of inactivity: Being active throughout the day will help control blood sugar levels, so break up long periods of sitting with some stretching exercises, standing or walking around every 30 minutes.
5. Lose excess weight: If you are overweight, losing just 7 per cent of your body weight can reduce your risk of diabetes. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by remembering the benefits of losing weight, such as a healthier heart and having more energy and improved self-esteem.
6. Avoid fad diets: Diet crazes are unsustainable as they usually exclude food groups or are unnecessarily strict and otherwise restrictive. Instead, focus on finding a sustainable weight-loss plan that works for you. Your doctor or a dietitian will be able to work with you to find a solution if you are unsure where to start.
7. Eat lots of fibre: High-fibre foods such as non-starchy vegetables and whole grains help to manage inflammation and a variety of other diseases, and they lower blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugars. They are more filling than other foods, encouraging weight loss, which is also beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels.
8. Avoid simple carbohydrates: These foods, including white bread and white pasta, pastries, highly processed foods and foods with high-fructose corn syrup, spike blood sugar levels and should be avoided as far as possible.
9. Choose beverages wisely: Avoid fruit juices, sodas and the like as these are high in sugar and can cause blood sugar to rise quickly. Water is an excellent choice for quenching your thirst, and you can add extra flavour with a slice of lime or lemon.
10. Quit smoking: According to the American Centres for Disease (CDC), smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers, and smokers are also at greater risk. Nicotine affects your cells’ ability to respond to insulin, which is exacerbated by the effect of chemicals in cigarettes in creating inflammation. In addition, smokers have a higher risk of belly fat, which in turn increases diabetes risk.