Part One: What is Diabetes? Should I be worried?

What is Type 2 diabetes?

The body uses glucose as its main source of energy. Glucose comes from foods that contain carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, fruit and milk. After food is digested, the glucose is released and absorbed into the bloodstream.

The glucose in the bloodstream needs to move into body tissues so that cells can use it for energy. Excess glucose is stored in the liver, or converted to fat and stored in other body tissues.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas and opens the doors (glucose channels) that let glucose move from the blood into the body cells. It allows glucose to be stored in the liver and other tissues. There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. In a few weeks we will be discussing a unique type of diabetes, gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune cells attack the insulin-producing cells. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce enough insulin and need insulin injections to survive.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and affects 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. While it usually affects mature adults, younger people are also now being diagnosed in greater numbers, as rates of obesity and people being overweight increase. Type 2 diabetes used to be called non-insulin dependent diabetes or mature onset diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes described as a 'lifestyle disease', because it is more common in people who are physically inactive and who are overweight or obese. It is strongly associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an 'apple' body shape, where excess weight is carried around the waist. Type 2 diabetes often runs in families.

With type 2 diabetes, the cells don't respond to insulin properly (insulin resistance) and the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for the body's increased needs. If the insulin cannot do its job, the glucose channels do not open properly. Glucose builds up in the blood instead of getting into cells for energy.

High blood glucose levels over time can cause damage to various parts of the body. These are referred to as diabetes complications.

Research shows that type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed with early lifestyle changes. There is also mounting evidence that proactive lifestyle changes can reverse some of the damaging effects of type 2 diabetes.

How common is Type 2 diabetes?

1.7 million Australians have diabetes. This includes all types of diagnosed diabetes (1.2 million known and registered) and silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (up to 500,000 estimated). This is estimated at around 280 Australians developing diabetes every day (1 person every 5 minutes). Not only does it impact a lot of peoples’ lives, but it has a huge economic impact as well. It is estimated that the total annual cost impact of diabetes in Australia is $14.6 billion!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we find out more about the risk factors and complications associated with diabetes, how to prevent and manage it with exercise and a look into Gestational Diabetes and its impact. 


References available on request.