Coping with diabetes

Millions of people suffer from diabetes. Pauline Byers gives an insight into the causes of the disease, and shares some tips on what sufferers can do to manage the symptoms


Diabetes is a serious chronic health condition affecting millions of people in the UK. There are currently some 2.9m suffering from the condition, with the figure expected to reach 5million by 2025.

People of African Caribbean heritage are three times more likely to contract the disease than their White counterparts, and it can have serious impact on all systems of the body, and can lead to blindness, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and amputations, which lead to disability and reduced life expectancy.


There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insulin, and usually appears before the age of 40. It is treated by insulin injections, diet and regular exercise.


Type 2 diabetes – also known as diabetes mellitus – is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body is unable to make sufficient insulin. Type 2 diabetes normally appears in people over the age of 40; however, increasingly, children as young as four years old are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is vital for life. It is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps glucose enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body. People who have diabetes will experience some of the following symptoms which include thirst, passing a lot of urine, tiredness, weight loss, genital itching, episodes of thrush, blurred vision, itching and numbness in fingers and or toes.


The rising numbers of people with diabetes can be linked to obesity; increased intake of processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. African Caribbeans and Asians appear to be at increased risk of developing the condition, and there is a tendency for diabetes to run in families. In essence, type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease. Lack of exercise and too much to eat are the major factors in bringing on this disease. Although some people have inherited a genetic predisposition to develop diabetes, genetics is like a loaded gun; it doesn’t hurt anyone until you pull the trigger. It is a sedentary lifestyle together with a high fat diet that pulls the trigger, bringing on the disease.


We all need carbohydrate food like yams, potatoes, bread, as well as chocolate bars. These foods are converted into blood glucose (blood sugar), which circulates in the blood stream. Glucose will be taken into the cells and burned to supply energy. To get into the cell, glucose must pass through a special ‘sugar door’ in the cell’s wall. These doors are how a cell tells the body it is hungry. A hungry cell will have thousands of these doors all over its surface. Glucose by itself has no way of opening the doors to get into the cell. This is where insulin comes in.

Insulin in produced by special cells in the pancreas called beta cells. These beta cells constantly ‘taste’ the blood to see just how sweet it is. When they ‘taste’ that the glucose levels are rising after a meal, these cells release more insulin into the blood stream. Insulin can then open more doors and let the extra glucose into the cell. This has the effect of reducing the amount of glucose circulating in the blood, and the blood glucose levels are kept within normal ranges. This is how the body normally controls its blood glucose level. This function is impaired in individuals with type 2 diabetes, that is why they need to take oral medication and insulin, as prescribed by their practitioner. In addition, their diet needs to be monitored and they need to increase their physical activity, so that they can experience improved health.


Type 2 diabetes can be best avoided by eating a balanced diet that is low in fat and rich in plant-based products, such as fruit and vegetables, as well as regular physical activity.

There is increasing evidence that a diet rich in plant-based food can have a significant impact in the management of type 2 diabetes. Most of the published literature comes out of the USA. Plant-based foods are high in fibre and low in fats, for example all pulses/legumes, eg. red beans, gunga and black-eyed peas. The use of processed foods should be avoided, for example white rice should be replaced by wholegrain brown rice, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, whole-wheat flour, quinoa, bulgur wheat and whole wheat cous cous. White bread should be replaced with a whole grain substitute. Vegetables should be eaten, and fruits limited to three times a day.

Sufferers should avoid drinking concentrated fruit juices; it is best to eat the whole fruit. And they should undertake exercise. Daily walks of around 30 minutes to an hour will assist in weight loss and strengthen the body.

Pauline Byers is the author of Managing Diabetes – A Wholefood Approach.
She is available to give talks at churches and community groups. For more details, or phone 07403099077

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