Diabetes Mellitus or diabetes is a chronic disease where the body is unable to adequately regulate the glucose (level), resulting in hyperglycemia. Without treatment, the body and its organs will be continually exposed to high glucose levels, increasing risk of complications such as blindness, heart disease, nerve disorders, kidney damage and more.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, Singapore is now the second nation among developed nations with the highest number of diabetics where one out of nine people aged 18 to 69 is diabetic1.
In our latest article we speak to our Endocrinologist, Dr. Goh Kian Peng, to find out more about the causes and symptoms of diabetes and how it can be prevented.
Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is generic and unpreventable. Patients with Type 1 diabetes experience a chronic disease where the pancreas produces little to no insulin. On the other hand, Type 2 Diabetes is usually caused by weight and lifestyle-related problems such as diet, alcohol intake and lack of exercise.
Signs and Causes of Diabetes
There are warning signs and symptoms of diabetes that can be easily identified in both men and women. They include excessive thirst or hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss or gain, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing wounds and more. If you are experiencing any of these signs, you might be at risk. Please consult a doctor for an assessment soonest possible.
There is no one factor that causes diabetes. However in Type 2 diabetes, the major contributors are a positive family history, age, race, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle; highlighting the fact that this disease has both a genetic and a lifestyle component.
When asked whether high sugar is the main cause of diabetes, Dr. Goh said:
“High sugar is the over-riding end-point of a series of several processes. For example, physical activity or exercise actually conditions our muscles to help remove the sugar from the circulation, which explains why a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing diabetes. Sugar is also the end result of food digestion, particularly from carbohydrates and is essential for our body to function normally.”
Ways to Diagnose Diabetes
There are various blood tests that can help. Though carried out in different ways with varying requirements, these tests have specific blood sugar indicators and can determine if the subject is diabetes or are at risk of diabetes (pre-diabetes).
The types of blood tests include:
- Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test
- Random blood sugar test
- Fasting blood sugar test
- Oral glucose tolerance test
Preventing Diabetes with Diet and Exercise
Exercising can help increase insulin action and in turn, keep your blood sugars in check. By adopting a regular routine, you help to lower your risks of gaining excess weight or getting obese. During mealtimes, opt for whole foods that are lower in sugar, sodium and increase your fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables. Avoid soft drinks or sugar sweetened drinks as they often contain high levels of sugar that may increase your risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes. Opt for water to hydrate your body instead.
While age and genes are factors that we cannot change, exercise and diet are lifestyle choices that are within our control.
Carbohydrate Counting and Its Role in Managing Diabetes
Carbohydrate (“carbs”) counting is an essential meal planning tool for diabetics as they have the greatest effect on blood sugar. Most carbs we eat, appear in our bloodstream as blood glucose, so eating a similar amount of carbs daily can help to better manage our blood sugar and keep it under control.
Healthy carbs from whole grains, fruits and vegetables can provide both energy and nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Unhealthy carbs from food and drinks with added sugars also provide energy but they have little to no nutrients.
Diabetes can be managed well when you are in control. Consult a dietitian to customize a healthy eating plan based on carbohydrate counting and balance it out by exercising regularly.
1 International Diabetes Federation. 2019. IDF Diabetes Atlas 9th Edition.
Retrieved from: https://www.diabetesatlas.org/data/en/country/179/sg.html