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Diabetes – The Good, the Bad and the Hungry?

With pharmacist, Mitchell Everlyn

It is estimated that 1.7 million Australians are currently living with diabetes, and it is estimated that 280 are being diagnosed every day. So what is diabetes? Diabetes or diabetes mellitus (as often referred to in medical literature), is where there is too much glucose in the blood.

Why is glucose important and is there a way we can control it?

Glucose is a simple sugar, and it is one of the body’s main forms of energy. It comes from the foods and drinks we consume. You need a steady supply of glucose to keep your body functioning. This is why we need to eat every day. Glucose in the body is controlled by Insulin – a small hormone the pancreas produces that moves glucose in the bloodstream to the cells in your body, where it can be used for energy. As opposed to popular beliefs, diabetes is not just people always eating the wrong foods. In simplified terms, diabetes is defined by the pancreas either not producing enough Insulin to match your glucose intake, or the insulin made does not work effectively. In either instance it results in a higher amount of blood glucose and hence diabetes.

Is all diabetes the same?

Diabetes is also broken up into 2 main categories, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where a person cannot produce their own insulin. They have to rely on Insulin injections daily to survive. Type 2 diabetes, however, is where a person produces some insulin but not enough to adequately control their blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is often treated with lifestyle measures, medicines that make insulin work better or stimulate insulin production and in some cases also insulin injections. This form of diabetes will progress with time and become more severe if lifestyle changes are not made.

Why is blood glucose at the wrong level harmful?

High blood glucose (also known as hyperglycaemia), can be damaging to the body over time by affecting the body’s nerves and vessels, in which can lead to kidney, eye and nerve damage (especially in the feet).  On the other hand low blood glucose (also known as hypoglycaemia) can also be damaging. This is because if the blood glucose gets too low a person could experience, confusion, slurred speech, light headedness and even possible loss of consciousness.

What can we do to change the risks?

As we can see it is a tight rope act, managing our blood glucose levels and is not as easily solved by people just ‘over or under eating’. Which begs the question of what we can do? Eating good foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables can help stabilise the blood glucose levels, where as processed foods such as those high in saturated fats and oils (for example potato chips and biscuits), can drastically cause the blood glucose levels to rise and fall. Exercise, even if limited, can have an incredible effect on lowering blood glucose levels. This is because exercise allows the body to process insulin better and regulate blood glucose levels. If you would like further advice it may be beneficial to see a dietitian, diabetes educator or exercise physiologist.

How do I know what my blood glucose level is?

People with diabetes can measure their Blood Glucose in two ways, via-self blood glucose monitoring (SBGM) or by HbA1c testing. SBGM involves taking readings on a diabetes blood glucose meter usually before meals (fasting) or 2 hours after meals (post-prandial). This gives us a snapshot of a moment in time to what the blood glucose reading is. The HbA1c however, is the average blood glucose levels in the past 3 months. This can be measured at a GP clinic or in some pharmacies. Both are useful to help guide how effective diet, medicine and lifestyle changes are.

It can be hard to monitor your glucose levels all of the time, but there are suggested monitoring schedules that you can use, with the support of your pharmacist or doctor. There are also many new medications that can be used for Type 2 diabetes, so if you have not had a review recently, ask us for more information. We offer access to a diabetes educator at both Clinic Hub sites, as well as the option to sit down with one of our pharmacists to do a diabetes medication review.

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