Who's getting it and why?
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How do I prevent it?

There’s nothing you can do about your age, gender or ethnicity, but other risk factors are lifestyle-related. Keeping a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fibre, fruits and vegetables and doing regular physical activity are key preventative actions you can take.

However, it’s not just down to individuals. Baker IDI is calling for legislative and societal changes to support and facilitate healthy behavioural choices. This may involve changes to local town planning, the way food is marketed and even occupational health and safety regulations to reduce sedentary work practices.

Top 10 tips for avoiding diabetes

  • Exercise regularly and avoid long periods of sitting around.
  • Keep a healthy body weight
  • Get your two and five servings of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Fibre is your friend – eat plenty of it
  • Reduce saturated fats in your diet
  • Drive through the drive-thru – don’t stop! Also limit processed foods
  • Limit alcohol
  • Don’t smoke
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Check your diabetes risk at www.ausdrisk.com.au

Diabetes & metabolic inflammation

Not everyone who has diabetes is obese, and not everyone who is obese has diabetes. This has led some to propose that obesity per se isn’t responsible for causing diabetes, but rather there are other factors that may contribute to both.

Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (including hypertension, dyslipidaemia and atherosclerosis) have been linked with a chronic low-grade systemic inflammation sometimes called metaflammation (a contraction of metabolic inflammation), which has various physiological effects, including changes to glucose and fat metabolism that lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.

Research into metaflammation began in the 1990s in the Harvard School of Public Health, and posits that our diet (food and drink) and lifestyle can have direct and indirect effects on the metaflammation process. There is emerging evidence in animals and humans that some nutrients, such as saturated and trans fats, excessive salt and sugar have an inflammatory effect, as do high glycaemic index foods, such as white rice and potatoes. Conversely, foods including fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts, cocoa and tea have demonstrated have an anti-inflammatory effect. Excessive alcohol appears to cause metaflammation, while moderate intake is protective.

This ties in with long-term studies that have found a higher risk developing diabetes among people with diets high in red and/or processed meats, low-fibre refined breads and cereals, fried potatoes and sugar-sweetened drinks, and low in fruit, vegetables – and wine!

Clearly, an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to weight gain, but even if it doesn’t, there are still health risks involved – including type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes on the increase

Unhealthy lifestyles may account for the increase in type 2 diabetes, but what about type 1 diabetes, which isn’t caused by anything you do or don’t do in life but the prevalence of which is increasing in some countries, including Australia? While viruses have been blamed for the disease, other theories and observations about increased risk of type 1 diabetes currently being researched include:

  • Babies born by caesarean section are 20% more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than vaginally born babies. Research has shown that the gut bacteria of caesarean babies is very different to that of vaginally born babies, and this has implications for immunity (type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease).
  • People living in high-latitude areas (such as Scandinavia, parts of Canada and southern Australia) are more susceptible to type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. This could be purely genetically-based, but it’s also been linked with vitamin D deficiency, which impacts on immunity. 
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A, phthalates and dioxin affect hormonal systems of the body. Insulin and vitamin D are hormones. EDCs are found at high levels in the food chain and environment, and at higher levels in people from developed countries – as is type 1 diabetes.

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