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How to control Diabetes

Diabetes arises because the body can't use glucose properly, either because of a lack of the hormone insulin or because the insulin available doesn't work effectively. Not only is excess sugar found in the blood but it may appear in the urine too.

Diabetes is common, and more than 2 million people in the UK are known to have the condition (statistics supplied by Diabetes UK). However, up to 750,000 people are believed to have diabetes without realising it.

Types of diabetes

More than three-quarters of those with diabetes have what is called type 2 diabetes mellitus'. This used to be known as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or maturity-onset diabetes mellitus. The remainder have type 1 diabetes mellitus, which used to be known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • In type 1, the body's unable to produce any insulin. This usually starts in childhood or young adulthood. It's treated with diet control and insulin injections. Type 1 diabetes used to be called 'insulin-dependent diabetes'.

  • In type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced or the insulin that is made doesn't work properly. This tends to affect people as they get older, and usually appears after the age of 40. It used to be known as maturity-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM)

What is insulin?

Insulin was first used to treat diabetes in 1921. Under normal circumstances, it's made by beta cells that are part of a cluster of hormone-producing cells in the pancreas.

The hormone regulates the level of glucose in the blood, preventing the level from going too high. Insulin enables cells to take up the amount of glucose they need to provide themselves with enough energy to function properly. It also allows any glucose left over to be stored in the liver.

Treating type 2 diabetes

Whilst type 2 may have been considered the 'milder' form of diabetes in the past, this is no longer the case.

For many, type 2 diabetes can be controlled with diet alone. Medication in tablet form is used when diet doesn't provide adequate control.

The different types of tablets work by one of these methods:

  • Helping the pancreas to make more insulin.
  • Increasing the use of glucose and decreasing glucose production.
  • Slowing down the absorption of glucose from the intestine.
  • Stimulating insulin release from the pancreas.
  • Enabling the body to use its natural insulin more effectively.

Over time, a careful diet combined with oral medication may not be sufficient to keep the diabetes under control. If this is the case then insulin injections may be recommended.

Looking after yourself with diabetes

Since having diabetes increases the risk of developing certain other health problems, including heart disease and circulatory disease, it's important to guard against these conditions.

Take regular exercise

Walking, swimming, dancing or cycling, for example, will help keep weight at an ideal level and assist in keeping blood sugar levels under control.

Avoid smoking and alcohol

Smoking should be completely avoided since it greatly increases the risk of many health problems, including damage to the blood vessels.

Drink alcohol in moderation

Never drink on an empty stomach because this can cause hypoglycaemia or 'hypo'. Excess alcohol also contributes to high blood pressure.

Maintain a healthy diet.

A healthy diet is essential. This should include regular meals that are low in fat and high in fibre - such as fruit, vegetables and pulses (beans, lentils and peas).

It's important to cut down on sugar and to have reduced sugar foods and drinks. Have chocolate, cakes and sugary drinks as a treat every now and then.

The amount of salt in your diet also needs to be reduced, since this contributes to high blood pressure that in turn may cause heart disease and strokes.

Check blood pressure

Blood pressure levels should be checked regularly to ensure they're kept at a safe level. Current guidelines recommend that someone with diabetes should have a blood pressure level below 130/80.

Watch cholesterol levels

A high cholesterol level damages the blood vessels and is another risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases. Therefore, it's important that the cholesterol level for someone with diabetes is not too high, ideally below 4.0.

Useful addresses of people that can help:

Diabetes UK
Tel: 020 7424 1000

The Diabetes Monitor

International Diabetic Athletes Association

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