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Everything you need to know about diabetes and reducing your chances of getting it

Diabetes is the third leading cause of premature death among males in the UK and the leading cause of disability. This article goes through everything you need to know about diabetes so you can make necessary changes to your lifestyle.

Man working out

A recent study found that men are at a higher risk of developing diabetes than women with 56% of diabetes cases in the UK for males. In many cases diabetes results from poor lifestyle and is totally preventable. In other cases, it can be genetic and first diagnosed as early as childhood. 

What is diabetes and why is it bad for you? 

Diabetes is a chronic disease related to the way your body converts the food you eat into energy for its everyday functioning. 

Your body is designed to convert carbohydrates into a sugar called glucose which is transported around the body in the bloodstream and used as an energy source. The bloodstream also carries a hormone called insulin, created in your pancreas, which assists the glucose transfer into the cells. 

A diabetes sufferer will have high glucose levels because his body is either not creating enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or is unable to process the insulin which has been produced (type 2 diabetes).

It is the excess build-up of glucose in your bloodstream which causes diabetes to have the undesirable health consequences associated with it. If left untreated diabetes can wreak havoc on your nerves and blood vessels as well as major organs such as your eyes, heart and kidneys. There are numerous health conditions which result from diabetes including blindness, diabetic heart disease, diabetic kidney disease, strokes and disability.

Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for the majority of deaths in people with type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes are at double the risk of developing several cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and certain strokes. Studies have also shown that diabetes sufferers are at double the risk of having a stroke within the first five years after diagnosis.

Approximately one in four people with diabetes will go on to develop some form of kidney disease in their lifetime. Kidney disease is associated with damage to the small blood vessels making the kidneys less efficient and eventually causing them to fail. Kidney disease accounts for over 20% of deaths in sufferers of type 1 diabetes and over 10% in sufferers of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable sight loss for people of working age in the UK. One big risk is retinopathy, which occurs when blood vessels supplying the retina become damaged preventing light passing through. Within 20 years of diagnosis nearly all type 1 diabetes sufferers and 60% of type 2 diabetes sufferers have some degree of retinopathy. People with diabetes also have a 50% greater chance of glaucoma and are three times as likely to develop cataracts.

Unfortunately, the problems associated with diabetes don’t just end here.

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of lower limb amputations in the UK.
  • Studies show that diabetes sufferers are twice as likely to suffer from an episode of depression.
  • Nerve damage is also thought to affect around 50% of people with diabetes.
  • 30%-90% of diabetes sufferers are believed to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
  • Studies have also shown that type 2 diabetes suffers are 1.5-2.5 times as likely to developing dementia.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? 

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 where the insulin producing cells in the pancreas are attacked by the immune system and type 2 where the body has enough insulin but is unable to use it correctly. 

Type 1 diabetes is usually first diagnosed from childhood but can still appear at any age. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes accounting for 90% of all cases. It is usually diagnosed in people who are over 40 years old with many of these living poor lifestyles. The vast majority of sufferers are overweight or obese and may have poor lifestyles with unhealthy diets, limited physical activity, poor blood pressure control and smoking habits.

Although diabetes symptoms can develop over a short period of time, significant damage may have already occurred over prior years with 50% of all people diagnosed with diabetes showing signs of complications at the time of diagnosis.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s blood sugar levels are disrupted because of it attacking its own insulin producing cells. This can result in too much glucose in the bloodstream, also known as hyperglycaemia or too little glucose, also known as hypoglycaemia. What’s more, type 1 diabetes can cause ketoacidosis which is where toxic acids broken down from fats in the body start to poison the body. In the most severe cases this can cause commas or even death. 

In type 2 diabetes, the body starts off being able to produce insulin but cannot use it correctly. Some studies have shown that the excess weight and high consumption of carbohydrates causes the body’s cells to build resistance to insulin. As a result, the body thinks that there is a shortage of insulin and causes the pancreas to bust a gut producing more insulin. It continues to do this until the responsible cells are spent leading to a fall in insulin production capability. 

What are the signs of diabetes in men? 

There are some common signs of diabetes in men which you should be aware of. This may not only be useful for yourself but for friends and relatives too – especially older ones – who may report symptoms without knowing the potential link to diabetes. 

  • A sudden and significant loss in weight 
  • Frequent need to urinate 
  • Frequent thirst and or hunger
  • Tiredness 
  • Circulation problems especially in legs, feet and fingers resulting in a tingling sensation or numbness 
  • Frequent infections 
  • Slow healing wounds and cuts 
  • Erection problems due to nerve damage making them unable to send signals to increase blood flow 

If you believe that you could have diabetes symptoms it is important that you arrange to see a doctor as soon as possible. If they feel it is necessary, they will make you undergo the necessary tests.

If it turns out that you do have diabetes they can recommend the most appropriate form of treatment. Although there is currently no cure for either form of diabetes, it is controllable if treated properly and sufferers who do follow the treatment plan can still expect a normal lifespan. That said, life expectancy is still reduced on average for both types of diabetes. For example, a person diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their 50’s can expect a reduction in life expectancy of 6 years.

How to prevent type 2 diabetes: five ways of reducing your chances of getting diabetes

The good news for those who don’t currently have diabetes is that it is often linked to lifestyle and therefore it is typically preventable. Here are five key things you should be doing to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

1. Maintain a healthy weight 

Keeping on top of your weight is a key goal in diabetes prevention. As mentioned earlier, excess weight can cause your body’s cells to build up resistance to insulin. An obvious way to prevent this is to maintain a healthy weight in the first place. Use a BMI calculator to find out what your ideal weight range is.

2. Eat a low-fat diet and avoid processed carbohydrates

A low-fat diet will help to reduce overall calorie consumption and improve cholesterol levels. Get plenty of whole grains, lean meats, white fish, low fat dairies, fruit and vegetables. Avoid processed carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes and many breakfast cereals as these can contribute to a sustained spike in blood sugar and insulin levels which may increase your type 2 diabetes risk.  

3. Replace sugary drinks with water, tea or coffee

For similar reasons to processed carbohydrates drinking high levels of sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks or fruit juices may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes risk. Take a simple step and replace these with water, tea or coffee.

4. Exercise regularly 

The benefits of exercise in type 2 diabetes prevention are twofold. Firstly, exercise helps you burn calories which help you maintain a healthy body weight. Secondly regular exercise helps build up muscle mass which in turn drives up your muscles’ demand for insulin, reducing diabetes risk. Over a week the Department of Health recommends that you achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Adults should also undergo physical exercise to improve muscle strength on at least 2 days each week.

5. Quit smoking

Type 2 diabetes is one of many health problems linked to smoking with smokers 50% more likely to develop diabetes compared to non-smokers.

Conclusion

Diabetes is a horrid disease that is the third leading cause of death in the UK, affecting more men than women. Diabetes increases the risk of other health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetic heart disease, diabetic kidney disease, sight loss, nerve damage and amputations. Thankfully, the vast majority of cases are caused by poor lifestyles and can be prevented. Be wary of the signs of diabetes in men so you can take action before serious damage has occurred. Our five steps for diabetes prevention are:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight
  2. Eat a low-fat diet and avoid processed carbohydrates
  3. Replace sugary drinks with water, tea or coffee
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Quit smoking

 

This article was created for informational purposes only and does not necessarily represent the views of For Chaps Ltd. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.