What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, that acts like a key to let glucose from the food we eat pass from the blood stream into the cells in the body to produce energy. All carbohydrate foods are broken down into glucose in the blood. Insulin helps glucose get into the cells.
Not being able to produce insulin or use it effectively leads to raised glucose levels in the blood (known as hyperglycaemia). Over the long-term high glucose levels are associated with damage to the body and failure of various organs and tissues
At present, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. The environmental triggers that are thought to generate the process that results in the destruction of the body’s insulin-producing cells are still under investigation.
While there are a number of factors that influence the development of type 2, it is evident that the most influential are lifestyle behaviours commonly associated with urbanization. These include consumption of unhealthy foods and inactive lifestyles with sedentary behaviour. Studies from different parts of the world have established that lifestyle modification with physical activity and/or healthy diet can delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Modern lifestyles are characterised by physical inactivity and long sedentary periods. Community-based interventions can reach individuals and families through campaigns, education, social marketing and encourage physical activity both inside and outside school and the workplace. IDF recommends physical activity at least between three to five days a week, for a minimum of 30-45 minutes.
Taking a life course perspective is essential for preventing type 2 diabetes and its complications. Early in life, when eating and physical activity habits are established and when the long-term regulation of energy balance may be programmed, there is an especially critical window to prevent the development of overweight and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Healthy lifestyles can improve health outcomes at later stages of life as well.
Population based interventions and policies allow healthy choices through policies in trade, agriculture, transport and urban planning to become more accessible and easy. Healthy choices can be promoted in specific settings (school, workplace and home) and contribute to better health for everyone. They include exercising regularly and eating wisely which will help to maintain normal levels of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipids.
Types of diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational.
- Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, but occurs most frequently in children and adolescents. When you have type 1 diabetes, your body produces very little or no insulin, which means that you need daily insulin injections to maintain blood glucose levels under control.
- Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults and accounts for around 90% of all diabetes cases. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make good use of the insulin that it produces. The cornerstone of type 2 diabetes treatment is healthy lifestyle, including increased physical activity and healthy diet. However, over time most people with type 2 diabetes will require oral drugs and/or insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control.
- Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that consists of high blood glucose during pregnancy and is associated with complications to both mother and child. GDM usually disappears after pregnancy but women affected and their children are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.