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Diabetes - Are you eating your way to an uncertain future?

Diabetes is the breakdown of the body's ability to regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The can be classified into two different types:

Type 1 Diabetes.

If a person's pancreas does not produce the insulin their body requires to cope with sugar in the blood, they are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is often diagnosed in young children, and the sufferer will generally require daily insulin injections for the rest of their lives.

Type 2 Diabetes.

The pancreas of a Type 2 diabetes sufferer will still produce insulin, but for a number of reasons, the body cannot make use of the insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. Many Type 2 diabetics are diagnosed later in life.

Of the two forms, type 2 is more common (around 90%), and although potentially fatal, can often be managed through radical lifestyle changes. Obviously, prevention of any major disease is better than the cure.

Some facts about diabetes in Australia.

The largest study of diabetes in Australia (Ausdiab) commenced in early 1999 and was concluded in 2001. This study highlighted the massive effect that diabetes and related diseases will have on Australian society over the coming years.

Some of the more significant findings of the study are that:

* For every known case of diabetes, there was one undiagnosed case.

* About 940,000 Australians over the age of 25 years have diabetes.

* The number of people with diabetes has trebled since a broadly-based blood survey was undertaken in 1981.

* Almost one in four Australians aged 25 years and over has diabetes or a condition of impaired glucose metabolism. Impaired glucose metabolism is associated with substantially increased immediate risk of heart disease as well as increased risk of diabetes in the future.

Are you at risk of developing diabetes?

Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes.

1. Family history and genetics are thought to play a role in the development of Type II diabetes. Generally, you are at a greater risk of developing diabetes if:

* You have a brother or sister with Type II diabetes

* You have a mother or father with Type II diabetes

* You have a grandparent with Type II diabetes

2. Age. The older we get the higher the incidence of Type II diabetes. Almost half of the new diagnoses for this type of diabetes are in those people aged 50 and over. This can lead to some dramatic lifestyle changes, just when we should be enjoying our lives the most!

Although you can't change your age, if you are over the age of 40 you can certainly focus on reducing the other risk factors!

3. Obesity is a big risk factor, with a large proportion of people who are diagnosed being overweight.

This can just be a symptom of other risk factors (i.e. poor diet and a lack of physical exercise) that can combine to greatly increase the risk of developing diabetes. As such, anyone with a weight problem should closely examine the other risk factors and work closely with their health professional to minimize other risk factors.

4. Physical inactivity will also increase the risk of developing Type II diabetes. Even small amounts of exercise will help to reduce the risk. A brisk walk for 25 - 30 minutes three times per week is a great start.

Exercise helps by:

* Making weight loss easier, reducing one of the risk factors

* Lowering blood glucose levels

* Improving insulin sensitivity

* Improving cholesterol levels

5. Diet. A lifetime of eating bad foods is another risk factor for diabetes. Unfortunately, our supermarket shelves are filled with products that are high in heavily processed foods like white flour, sugar, colours and flavours. All of these ingredients are very cheap to buy, and quick to prepare, so they have become the basis of most of our foods, making healthy eating just that little bit harder.

When eaten, these highly processed ingredients very quickly elevate blood sugar, causing the body to secrete insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels. After years of eating these "high-carb" foods, you tend to put on weight easily, crave sugary foods, and your body starts to become resistant to the insulin you produce. You now have impaired glucose intolerance.

6. Impaired Glucose Tolerance can precede the development of Type II diabetes. While persons affected with these problems do not meet the diagnostic criteria for diabetes, their blood sugar control and reaction to sugar loads are considered to be abnormal. This places them at higher risk, not just for the development of type 2 diabetes (an estimated one in ten progress to type 2 diabetes within five years), but also for cardiovascular disease.

For people who are insulin resistant, preventive strategies including lifestyle changes and regular screening for diabetes must be a priority.

If you have two or more of the above risk factors you should consider taking some steps to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. A couple of small lifestyle changes now can help to prevent years of misery in later life, with all of the associated problems that diabetes can cause.