What different types of diabetes exist?
There are three main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes – an autoimmune disease which is usually present from birth or detected during childhood
- Type 2 diabetes – a disease usually occurring later in life which is often attributed to preventable lifestyle factors, though in some cases it is genetic (inherited)
- Gestational diabetes – this occurs during pregnancy when glucose levels become higher than normal in the mother
Type 2 diabetes rates are increasing in Australia, and that’s the one we can control and influence.
How does diabetes affect your body?
Diabetes is a serious disease characterised by high glucose levels in the bloodstream.
Glucose is a form of sugar found in carbohydrates such as fruit, pasta and bread – and it’s a key source of energy required by your body’s cells and organs. When your body digests carbohydrates, glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream. There, it’s converted into energy with the help of insulin, which is a hormone produced by your pancreas.
If your body can’t produce insulin, or if it can’t use the insulin it produces effectively, your blood glucose levels will be higher than normal. If left untreated, high blood glucose levels can lead to a range of long-term health implications, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, limb amputation and blindness.
Diabetes may also contribute to depression and anxiety, meaning the disease can impact mental health as well as physical health.
Reducing and managing diabetes risk factors
Researchers are still investigating the specific cause of type 1 diabetes, and it’s thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors
Type 2 diabetes is often preventable and can occur from a range of long-term unhealthy lifestyle choices, including:
- Being overweight – fatty tissue can cause your cells to become resistant to insulin
- Smoking – smokers have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Unhealthy diet – an unhealthy diet often leads to excessive weight gain which in turn leads to insulin resistance
- Being inactive – inactivity can cause you to use less energy and put on more weight, whereas being physically active helps to maintain a healthy weight and use up glucose as energy
Other risk factors thought to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes include:
- Race – certain races are more at risk of type 2 diabetes, including Chinese, South Asian, Indian, Pacific Islander and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations – as well as African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans
- Family history – those with a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – this hormonal condition can increase the risk of diabetes in some women
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Risk factors for gestational diabetes tend to include being overweight, age (being over 25), race and a family history.
You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes with the following lifestyle adjustments:
- Eat a healthy diet – aim for a diet of mostly plant-based foods, lean meats, dairy, grains and legumes, and cut out processed foods, alcohol, and foods high in saturated fat and salt
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight and feel healthier, also giving you more energy to enjoy your day
- Quit smoking – smokers are 30-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, so quitting is an important step in reducing your risk (phone Quitline on 13 78 48 to get started). As a Defence Health member, you have access to benefits for approved quit smoking programs.
If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it’s important to always follow your doctor’s advice about managing your health. You may need to take regular medication to control your blood sugar, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. You might also need to take insulin injections.
While type 2 diabetes can’t be ‘cured’ as such, managing your risk factors, maintaining a healthy weight and taking steps to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese can help you to stay healthy and live an active, fulfilling life.