Before we can look at what can cause diabetes we have to consider how the body digests carbohydrates, particularly starchy and sugary carbohydrates. Food is initially broken down into carbohydrates,fat and protein. Now the carbohydrates are converted into glucose which is released into the bloodstream and passes into individual cells where it is converted into energy. This energy fuels all the activities of the body – work, play, exercise etc. To enable the glucose to enter individual cells and be converted into energy one of the body’s organs (the pancreas) produces a hormone (insulin). Insulin acts as a key to individual cells, allowing glucose to pass through and be converted to energy to fuel the bodies activities.
What Can Cause Diabetes?
Some people do not produce enough insulin to convert the glucose, or the insulin they produce is not fully effective in converting the glucose to energy. This is the situation known as diabetes. In summary diabetes is a condition where the body is not fully effective converting glucose from digested foods into energy to meet the body’s needs.
In some cases there can be a severe shortage of insulin in the body, basically because the cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. This condition is referred to as Type 1 diabetes and tends to occur early in life, quite possibly in childhood. Treatment is to provide the necesary insulin by injection.
The other major form of diabetes is known as Type 2 diabetes. In this situation the body is actually producing insulin, but either not enough for its needs or what it does produce is not fully effective. This situation tends to develop later in life (typically over 40), but these days it is also appearing earlier possibly in young adults, even in children.
The major cause of Type 2 diabetes has been linked to peoples’ lifestyles, in particular people who are relatively inactive and overweight are prime candidates for this chronic disease. Current thinking is that this can be contolled to a degree by lifestyle changes such as dietary changes, increase physical activity and weight loss. As time progresses these may need to be supplemented with medicines such as Metformin tablets or even insulin injections.
There are two possible diabetes complications to consider here, firstly hypoglycaemia, and secondly its opposite hyperglycaemia. Lets take a look at what these are, symptoms which arise, quick fixes for immediate treatment and longer term strategies to prevent re-occurrence.
Basically “Hypos” occur when the blood glucose level drops below 4mmol/l. The body reacts with one or more of these symptoms:
- headache, mood swings, blurred vision, sweating, shaking, unsteadiness, confusion, hunger.
The immediate treatment for this diabetes complication is to consume 15gm of a fast acting carbohydrate. The ideal solution is to take glucose (nothing is faster than glucose), take glucose tablets or lucozade for a rapid blood glucose boost. Note that you should follow up with longer acting carbohydrates (eg bread or other starchy carbs) to get a longer term effect.
Preventative action to avoid reoccurrenceof this diabetes complication:
- Dont miss out a meal. Maintain sufficient carbohydrate intake throughout the day to keep blood glucose levels normal.
- If you are more active than normal increase carbohydrate consumption to provide energy.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, particularly on an empty stomach.
- Keep up with your medication.
- If you are on insulin it may be appropriate to reduce dosage in hot weather as insulin is absorbed more quickly when hot. Ask your medical adviser first.
This is a condition where your blood glucose level is consistently high. Typically above 7 mmol/l before meals and above 8.5 mmol/l two hours after meals.
- tiredness and lethargy, frequent urination, dry mouth, very thirsty, warm and sweaty, blurred vision.
Treatment will probably involve lifestyle changes and medication. Preventative measures include:
- Control carbohydrate portions – avoid overeating.
- Be more active, get moderate exercise (eg walk more). This removes glucose from the blood.
- Maintain your medication.
- If blood glucose levels remain high after the above lifestyle changes, consult your doctor – you may need increased medication.
Thes are the two most frequently occurring diabetes complications. There are many more which are less frequent but which can be more threatening.