30% of people with diabetes don’t know they have it

Type 2 Diabetes is the world’s fastest-growing chronic health condition. In Australia, rates of diabetes have more than tripled since 1980[1].

  • One Australian develops diabetes every five minutes – that’s 280 people per day[2]. 
  • The is an estimated 1.7 million Australians living with diabetes and prediabetes.[3].  
  • By 2045, it is expected that one in every ten people will have diabetes[4]. 

Diabetes is deadly.  

There are two types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. In some ways, they are very different diseases – although they both relate to insulin and blood sugar level. In type 1 diabetes, the body is suddenly no longer able to produce insulin because the cells that produce insulin are destroyed. T1DM is an autoimmune condition – which means the body attacks its own cells. In T1DM, the body attacks the cells in the pancreas (the ‘beta cells’) which produce insulin. Blood sugar levels rise, very quickly. 

In type 2 diabetes, the cells of the body do not respond properly to insulin, and this gradually becomes worse, over time. Unlike T1DM, in T2DM the beta cells are actually making a lot of insulin-producing more and more to try to overcome insulin resistance around the body. But the resistance continues to get worse and worse. So, blood sugar levels also rise – but more gradually, over time. A person with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of heart attacks, dementia, cancer, blood clots and kidney failure – as well as blindness, nerve pain, slow healing wounds, and infections. In 2016, over one million people were hospitalised due to diabetes[5]. 

85% of Australians with diabetes today have T2DM.  

Rates of T1DM have remained relatively stable over recent years[6]. But rates of T2DM have reached epidemic proportions.  

But 1 in every 20 Australians doesn’t know they have diabetes. That’s half a million people[7].  

  • 30% of people with diabetes, 3 don’t know they have it[8].  
  • For every five people diagnosed with diabetes, another four go undiagnosed[9].  

Diabetes is silent and deadly.  But a low-carbohydrate diet will help.  

There are many myths about diabetes.  

  • It’s a myth that you’ll only get diabetes if you are overweight.  
  • It’s a myth that if you are physically fit or can run long distances, you can’t get diabetes. 
  • It’s a myth that if you have diabetes, you need to eat carbohydrates.  
  • It’s a myth that you need to be old to get diabetes.  
  • It’s a myth that you can’t reverse the progression of type 2 diabetes.  

Diabetes can happen when you’re thin when you’re young, and when you’re fit – as well as when you’re overweight, older, or unfit. Type 2 diabetes is a dietary disease – and so it matters what you eat and when you eat, not just how much you weigh or how far you can run. With the right diet and lifestyle, type 2 diabetes is preventable, treatable, and reversible[10]. 

Spotting diabetes.  

At your GP, diabetes can be detected with a simple blood test, called HbA1c. HbA1c measures the average amount of sugar that has been in the blood in the previous 3 months (it’s like measuring your average blood glucose level). But since diabetes doesn’t always have ‘red-flag’ symptoms that are easy to spot at home, we don’t necessarily visit the doctor and get this blood test. Furthermore, diabetes can develop slowly, over years – so it can be very easy to dismiss any symptoms that do occur as a ‘normal’ part of ‘getting older’, ‘working too much’ or ‘being stressed’.  

Examples of these kinds of symptoms include: 

  • Sugar cravings 
  • Weight gain 
  • Constant hunger 
  • Thirst  
  • Frequent urination  
  • Difficulty concentrating  
  • Anxiety, shakiness  
  • Fatigue  
  • Irritability  
  • Lack of energy  
  • Skin infections  
  • Blurry vision  

You may or may not have these symptoms. But whether you have symptoms or not, diabetes will damage the body, from the inside out – so it’s important to get tested.  

In diabetes, high blood sugar and high blood insulin levels cause damage to every organ. In the heart, the damaged blood vessels become hard and narrow, causing chest pain, difficulty breathing, heart failure, and heart attacks. Diabetes affects brain function and mood – it is associated with depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and poor sleep. In diabetes, the blood becomes ‘stickier’ – making you more likely to get a blood clot. Blood clots block oxygen delivery to your tissues – causing tissue death. In your brain, a blood clot can cause a stroke. In your heart, a blood clot can cause a heart attack. In your leg, a blood clot can cause a ‘deep vein thrombosis’, which may lead to tissue death in toes or feet, requiring amputations. Diabetes damage the kidneys, which are constantly filtering our blood. When the kidneys are damaged, they cannot maintain the delicate balance of electrolytes required for survival, or filter toxins from the blood.  And if you don’t know you have diabetes, this damage will slowly build up over many years, unchecked.  

The first sign of diabetes may be your first heart attack.  

Prevent, detect, and reverse.  

It’s important to get tested for diabetes so that if you have it, you can treat it – but equally as important is to prevent diabetes from developing, in the first place. A common way to treat diabetes is through medication – including injections of insulin. Insulin works to bring high blood sugar back down again. But type 2 diabetes is a state of insulin resistance. This means that cells aren’t responding as well as they should to insulin.

Insulin resistance occurs because of constant exposure to high amounts of insulin over many years – and so the cells begin to ignore insulin because it is always around. Injecting extra insulin doesn’t fix the problem. Extra insulin will bring the blood sugar level down for a little while, but eventually, the cells become resistant to these even-higher levels of insulin, as well.  Extra insulin just makes insulin resistance worse. To prevent and reverse diabetes, then, we need to make the cells more sensitive to insulin again (that is, make it so the cells respond to insulin, instead of ignoring it). The best way to do this is to reduce the amount of insulin in our blood, in the first place.  

How do we do this? Through a low carbohydrate diet.  

References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018, July 18). Diabetes Snapshot. Retrieved from Australian Government
  2. Diabetes Australia. (2015). Diabetes in Australia. Retrieved from Diabetes Australia
  3. Diabetes Australia. (2015). Diabetes in Australia. Retrieved from Diabetes Australia
  4. International Diabetes Federation. (2018). About Diabetes. Retrieved from International Diabetes Federation
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018, July 18). Diabetes Snapshot. Retrieved from Australian Government
  6. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Web Report
  7. Diabetes Australia. (2015). Diabetes in Australia. Retrieved from Diabetes Australia
  8. Sainsbury, E., Shi, T., Flack, J., & Colagiuri, S. (2018, July). Burden of diabetes in Australia: it’s time for more action. Retrieved from report
  9. Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute. (2012). Diabetes: the silent pandemic and its impact on Australia. Retrieved from Diabetes Australia
  10. Athinarayana, S., Adams, R., Hallberg, S., McKenzie, A., Bhanpuri, N., Campbell, W., . . . McCarter, J. (2019). Long-Term Effects of a Novel Continuous Remote Care Intervention Including Nutritional Ketosis for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Non-randomized Clinical Trial. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 348(10). doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00348 

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ABOUT DIABETES REVERSAL

Although there is no universally agreed upon definition for the reversal of type 2 diabetes, Diversa uses HbA1c to assist in defining diabetes and pre-diabetes reversal.

Type 2 diabetes reversal is when a patient who previously had an HbA1c in the diabetic range (>6.5%) returning an HbA1c in the non-diabetic range (<6.4%) (along with the absence of medications used to manage diabetes). Pre-diabetes reversal is when a patient who previously had an HbA1c in the pre-diabetic range (5.7-6.4%) returning an HbA1c to the non pre-diabetic range (less than 5.7%).

It is important to recognise that although not everybody may be able to completely reverse type 2 diabetes, partial reversal, the reduction of medication dosages, along with the simultaneous lowering of HbA1c, will unquestionably achieve a better quality of life and improve health outcomes for those living with type 2 diabetes.

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