Before launching into the bulk of this article, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce Mindful Aesthetics Group's charity of the month for November - Fareshare! If you don't know already, they collect excess food from across the country and redistribute it to various local organisations such as homeless hostels, youth clubs and other charities who then use it to make meals for those who most need them. The fact that it's shocking such a service is left to a charity rather than a governmental organisation is irrelevant - Fareshare are an incredibly hard-working and positive force for change within the UK, tenaciously doing their part to combat the overwhelming amount of waste that the country's food industry produces. If you weren't aware of MAG's charitable initiative, we'll be donating 1% of our revenue from aesthetic procedures to Fareshare for the entire month of November. If you want to know how you can contribute as an individual, however, check out the phenomenal work they do here.
Let's move on to the topic of today's article. As you've almost certainly guessed already, it's diabetes, in honour of World Diabetes Day. Most people know at least a bit about it; it's hard not to after this commercial for Liberty Medical - in which actor Wilford Brimley (what a name!) repeatedly mispronounces the condition as 'diabeetus' - did the rounds on the Internet. Despite how funny that video might be, diabetes is no laughing matter. This health condition is incredibly (and unfortunately) common, especially in the US and the UK. As of 2015 there were a reported 9.4% of the American population who suffered from some form of diabetes, and a quarter of them weren't even aware they had it! The disease is most prevalent amongst the older generations, with 1 in 4 over-65s finding themselves afflicted. That's a lot of people.
What exactly causes diabetes? Well, it occurs when an individual's blood glucose levels become too high, also known as hyperglycemia. Blood glucose - or blood sugar - provides our primary source of energy. You may have heard it spoken about in negative terms; we're often told we need to reduce it, which might lead some people to think that it's wholly-bad. The truth is, we need a certain amount of it to function. Our pancreas naturally produces a hormone known as insulin, which essentially act as a kind of key upon your body's cells, prompting them to open and allow glucose molecules, providing them with energy. Sometimes, though, we don't produce enough of it - or it doesn't work efficiently enough to adequately-move glucose from our blood vessels into our cells. This deficiency is what causes the manifestation of diabetes.
Type I vs Type II Diabetes
There are two primary forms of diabetes - known as type I and type II - the distinction between which is important to be aware of. They're both very serious conditions with no long-term cure, but it's entirely-possible to manage them and reduce the negative impacts that they can have upon your body's day-to-day functions.
Type I diabetes is usually diagnosed during childhood or early-adulthood (which is why it used to be known as 'juvenile diabetes') and occurs when one's body naturally doesn't produce enough - or any - insulin. Essentially, the immune systems of those who suffer from it attack the important pancreatic cells responsible for making and releasing insulin into the bloodstream. This happens due to the body mistaking these cells for harmful invaders. It's generally-considered to be more severe than Type II diabetes (which we'll examine in a second) due to the fact that sufferers need to take insulin shots every day in order to survive.
Sorry, that was probably more like three seconds. Anyway, type II diabetes is different in that, rather than one's body turning against the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, it instead doesn't use or produce insulin efficiently enough to adequately-deliver glucose to the places it's needed. Unlike type I diabetes, type II usually manifests itself in older individuals. It's far more common than type I, afflicting around 90% of all diabetes sufferers. Whilst the causes of type II diabetes are still not fully-understood, you can lower your risk of developing it by ensuring you maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet.
Risk factors of diabetes
The specific causes of type I diabetes are also largely unknown, they are thought to be a result of genetics and increased exposure to viruses and other harmful environmental conditions. It is therefore incredibly hard to pinpoint what can be done to reduce an individual's risk of diagnosis - another reason that this first type of the disease is considered to be more severe than type II.
The situation looks somewhat more positive when it comes to type II diabetes. Let's try and paint a picture of an individual who'd be considered most at-risk of developing the condition. They're likely male, over 45, overweight, and largely-inactive. Perhaps they have a family history of the disease, and if they're living in the UK then they might be of a certain ethnic background - South Asian and African-Caribbean groups in Britain are thought to be most at risk. It's also likely that they suffer from a whole host of other health conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and a high level of triglycerides (a common type of fat found within the blood). If they're truly unfortunate, they also have a history of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
If you're reading this and thinking "oh God, that's me", then I'm sorry for the extensive roster of health problems it sounds like you've endured. Fortunately, when it comes to diabetes there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease. It's also entirely-possible that none of the above could apply to you and you still end up developing Type II diabetes. That's the way it works, unfortunately.
Symptoms of diabetes
There are a number of early symptoms of diabetes that it's prudent to look out for. When our blood sugar is too high, the body compensates by attempting to flush it out through the kidneys. This tends to cause you to urinate a lot (I considered including a handy stock image for reference, then thought better of it). Diabetes sufferers also frequently suffer from a whole host of other symptoms, including weight gain or loss, heightened levels of thirst and/or hunger, exhaustion, tingling sensations in their extremities - such as the hands and feet - and even blurriness of vision. These are all early-warning signs of the disease, and if you find yourself experiencing them it's highly-advised to go for a check-up with your doctor.
It's worth noting that there are also a few symptoms that solely-affect men. If you read my recent article on male health issues for Men's Health Awareness Month, you may recall that type II diabetes disproportionately-impacts men (thought to be related to a cultural dynamic in which they don't pay enough attention to what they eat and drink). Male-specific symptoms of diabetes are primarily linked to sexual function - and not in a good way. They include erectile dysfunction, a decreased sex drive and retrograde ejaculation. If you're unfamiliar with this last term, it's when semen travels into the bladder rather then being emitted from the penis during orgasm. Despite - as a guy myself - thinking this sounds both weird and terrible, I was relieved to discover it's not actually painful or dangerous per se (though it is known to cause infertility in some cases). However, it can be a cause for concern. Once again, the presence of these symptoms may mean it's high-time for a visit to your GP.
Because all manner of factors can contribute to an increase in blood sugar, it's important to be as aware of what you're putting into your body as possible. Diet is perhaps the most vital aspect of one's lifestyle to regulate. Carbohydrate intake is crucially-important to keep an eye on - this is where the sugar in the blood comes from, after all. If you're unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with the condition then doctors will advise you on how to formulate an appropriate meal plan, but it usually involves regulating portion sizes and understanding how many carbs they contain. It also involves avoiding certain types of food and drink altogether - especially beverages that are packed with sugar. Additionally, ensuring you consume an adequate amount of fibre is rather important, too, as this helps your body maintain a stable level of blood glucose.
Exercising regularly, alongside being an important preventative measure against Type II diabetes, is also highly-advised as part of managing the condition once it's been diagnosed. Doctors will happily help you formulate an exercise plan, and will recommend that you also remember to check your blood sugar levels before, during and after working out. Exercise has a lot of impact upon blood sugar levels - it can even lower them a full day after the activity was performed.
Those who need to take insulin - primarily sufferers of type I diabetes - will need to do all of the above in conjunction with their medication. Medical professionals will advise you on how to do this, but it does mean that a near-constant state of awareness of the numerous factors that influence blood sugar must be maintained. Insulin must be stored appropriately - if it is not, its effectiveness can be reduced - and if you also need to take other medications for different ailments then it should only be done after a thorough consultation with a doctor, who can spot any issues that might arise when insulin is mixed with varying substances.
You may not have considered the possibility of developing diabetes. That's understandable - it rarely serves us to worry too much about 'what ifs'. However, considering it's a condition that has the potential to impact anybody at any time of their life, it's crucial to be aware of it and the ways in which you can reduce the chances of it manifesting. Due to medical science still only having a tentative-grasp on what exactly causes diabetes, the preventative measures you can take are fairly generalised. However, they're all healthy lifestyle choices anyway - your mind and body will thank you for making them regardless of whether or not it helps you avoid the dreaded D-word. If you want to learn more, you can talk to your doctor or find plenty more accurate, up-to-date information on the NHS website. Perhaps switch out those sugary snacks or beverages next time you find yourself feeling hungry/thirsty, and ensure you're getting enough exercise. There isn't much else you can do.