How To: Look after yourself with Type 2 diabetes

This section is for all type twos and any type ones who think they are developing insulin resistance. This is often recognisable by an increasing waist line, blood pressure and need for high doses of insulin relative to your thinner years.

Slim type ones may proceed to the How To: “Eat to Meter” section.

When you eat carbohydrate it gets broken down by the digestive system and appears in the blood stream as glucose.  Insulin is immediately released by the pancreatic beta cells.  Insulin is the hormone that tells certain types of cell in the body to take up glucose in the bloodstream.  In this way the glucose level in the blood stays within a narrow range.

In insulin resistant states such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes the cell wall insulin receptors are less sensitive to insulin and in an effort to keep blood sugar levels normal the pancreas releases more insulin.

High insulin levels causes inflammation and stiffening of the lining of your blood vessels. This lining is called the endothelium. This stiffening causes high blood pressure.

The pancreatic cells can initially make plenty of extra insulin to compensate for the weakened effect of the insulin but eventually become exhausted and start to die off. This causes higher blood sugars.  Unfortunately blood sugars higher than 6.1 are toxic to beta cells and they start to die off with higher and higher blood sugars. The whole thing is a vicious circle.

Type two diabetes is often thought of as being less serious in some ways than type one diabetes. It is certainly true that a type two will not die as rapidly if they don’t get insulin as in type ones. On the long term however type two diabetes causes all the same complications as type one and can be just as fatal. Instead of it being obvious that something is drastically wrong with your health as in type one, those with type two can have it creep up on them over many years, slowly causing damage to the blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves and not even know about it.

In type two diabetes there is initially more insulin produced to try to overcome the effect of insulin resistance. In early type two diabetes there can even be episodes of low blood sugars when the pancreas releases too much insulin at the wrong time. As time goes on the beta cells become exhausted and produce less and less insulin and  die off. In many people insulin injections are eventually needed to give anything like normal blood sugar control.

Type two diabetics store less immediately available insulin than normal people. In addition they also need to produce more than normal because their cells are less sensitive to insulin. As their ability to produce insulin on demand declines they get higher blood sugars after eating and this persists for much longer than in non diabetic people.

High blood sugars after eating can be minimised by eating fats, protein and carbohydrates that release sugar gradually so that their pancreatic insulin factory (phase two insulin response) can keep up. This effectively means eating non starchy vegetables as the main source of carbohydrates.

For type two diabetics who do not need insulin they may get better results from eating  4 or 5 small meals a day rather than sticking to three bigger meals a day.

Many people have inherited their tendency to insulin resistance.  If your parents or grandparents had heart disease, high blood pressure, fat round the middle, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type two diabetes or swollen ankles you are more at risk.

The diabetes tendency becomes noticed at times such as pregnancy, ageing and if the person tends to eat a high sugar or starch diet.  Lack of exercise also affects how rapidly the tendency will appear.

Insulin primarily affects blood sugar but also affects blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides and the storage of fat. No medications can reduce excess insulin production: only a low carb diet. A low carb diet works by reducing the oversecretion of insulin and helps restore balance.

Beta blockers and diuretics which are often used to control blood pressure also increase insulin resistance and are best avoided in some people.

Although there are cut off points in blood sugar tests to say who is normal, who has metabolic syndrome and who has diabetes, the condition is really a continuum.  Someone who has metabolic syndrome can get retinopathy, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease just the same as a diabetic.

The worse your sugar control is the worse your cardiovascular and complication risk.  A popular test to do is the hbaic. This is the percentage of sugar attached to your red cells in the blood. Although a normal range of 4-6 is often given for instance it has been found that your risk goes up progressively from levels of just 4.6.  It therefore makes sense to have as good blood sugar control as you can, particularly if you have a moderate to long life expectancy.

Tests that you can have done to find out your risk or severity of metabolic syndrome and type two diabetes include measuring your waist/hip ratio, hbaic, glucose tolerance test, fasting lipids and blood pressure.

There is a progression in how type two diabetes is treated:

Low carbohydrate diet
Appropriate weight loss
Drugs that enhance insulin sensitivity or insulin action
Insulin injections with or without oral drugs.

People who have lived with high blood glucose levels for years can feel shakey or ill at normal blood sugar levels.  They also can have blurred vision. A gradual adjustment of the target blood range and progressive reduction in carbohydrates can help these symptoms settle down.

Quick Quiz:
1. One of these is true for type two diabetics…
a They get less serious complications than type ones.
b They can have slowly developing damage to tissues without realising it.
c They need the same level of daily monitoring as insulin using type ones.
d Those not on insulin get on best with three meals a day.

Have you got it?
1. B is correct. Unfortunately the myth that type twos get less serious complications than type ones persists. Diabetes is certainly not as dramatic in onset as in type ones. It’s insidious nature makes it harder to detect and so damage goes unchecked. It is the case that monitoring of blood sugars needs to be done a lot less often than in insulin dependants but dietary habits must be just as good. If reasonable amounts of a person’s own insulin are being made type two diabetics may have better sugar results with smaller and more frequent meals than the 3 or 4 a day advocated for type one diabetics.

Reference Info:
Most of the information in this section is from Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars.
Where to Next?
You are now ready to proceed to the How To: “Eat to Meter” section.