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Reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes

  • Did you know there are 3.8 million people in the UK diagnosed with diabetes?
  • The number could, in fact, be much higher, as it is estimated that 549,000 people have undiagnosed diabetes
  • Did you know incidence is growing? It is estimated that more than five million people could be diagnosed with diabetes by 2025

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is growing at an alarming rate [1]. It is estimated that someone is diagnosed with the illness every two minutes [2]. Whilst there are various forms, the most common is type-2 diabetes, which makes up for 90% of cases. Formerly known as adult-onset diabetes because of its prominence in those over the age of 40, type-2 diabetes is now increasingly being diagnosed in younger people.

What is type-2 diabetes?

Type-2 diabetes occurs when the hormone insulin is not used effectively by the cells in your body (insulin resistance); in a more advanced stage of type-2 diabetes, damage may be done to the cells which produce insulin, leading to a lack of production. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is an important hormone which ensures that blood sugar levels are controlled [3].

Symptoms of type-2 diabetes include:

  • Urinating frequently
  • Constantly feeling dehydrated and thirsty
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Slow healing wounds

If not controlled, over time blood sugar levels can rise to dangerous levels and put the individual at risk of [4]:
Diabetic Retinopathy –a complication with the eyes that can eventually lead to a loss of vision.
Foot problems – someone with diabetes is 20 times more likely to experience an amputation.
Heart attacks and strokes – sugar can build up and cause damage to the blood vessels, making it more difficult for your heart to supply the body with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
Kidney disease – can occur because of damage to the small blood vessels.

What causes type-2 diabetes?

There are several causes for type-2 diabetes and any combination of these puts you at a greater risk of developing the condition. The most common causes are centred around genetics and lifestyle.

Genetics and type-2 diabetes

Whilst type-2 diabetes can be hereditary, having a relative who is affected does not mean you are guaranteed to also be diagnosed. However, you are at a greater risk of the condition as opposed to someone with no family history of type-2 diabetes [5].

Lifestyle and type-2 diabetes

Diet – excessive consumption of foods with saturated fats and refined sugar, as well as sweetened drinks, are linked to a greater risk of type-2 diabetes, particularly because of their association with obesity [6,7].

Obesity – poor weight management is said to make up for 80-85% of the risk associated with developing type-2 diabetes and people who are obese are 80 times more likely to develop the condition [8]. There is evidence to suggest [9,10] that increased weight around your waist can lead to insulin resistance; this occurs because of fat cells releasing inflammatory chemicals, which make your body less sensitive to insulin.

Sleep – good quality sleep is essential as it allows the hormones in our body to maintain various processes, such as energy restoration, tissue repair and weight control. A continuous lack of sleep has many ill-effects and the risk of type-2 diabetes is one of them. Research suggests that not getting enough sleep increases insulin resistance and weight gain [11,12,13], two common factors associated with type-2 diabetics.

What can you do to minimise your risk of type-2 diabetes?

Maintain a balanced diet: It has been said many times, but a healthy balanced diet goes a long way in ensuring that your body is as close to optimal health as possible. Aside from type-2 diabetes, several common health issues, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, are associated with poor diet. Consider what food you are putting into your body; refrain from consuming excessive amounts of refined sugar and saturated fats found in chocolate and pastries. Instead replace them with more wholefoods, such as:

- Grains – wholegrain rice, quinoa, spelt, bulgur and rolled oats.

- Nuts and seeds (unsalted) – walnuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.

- Beans and legumes – lentils, chickpeas, haricot beans and kidney beans.

- Fruit and veg – all types are recommended.

Be sure to set some time aside for yourself and cook a meal; by doing so, you know the ingredients going into your food and how much. It is also much cheaper and wholesome than food already prepared.

Become more active

Having a sedentary lifestyle is also a risk factor of type-2 diabetes, so counteract this by doing some exercise! The UK government physical activity guidelines advise 150 minutes of exercise a week and, by adhering to these guidelines, you are better equipped to manage blood sugar levels. Furthermore, exercise can allow you to become more social if done in a group, as well as reduce stress levels. Remember that exercise does not mean going to a gym; whether it be using a skipping rope in the garden or a brisk walk/jog whilst taking the dog out, it can keep you in great shape.

Sleep is just as important

The impact of poor sleep on our health and wellbeing can be substantial. In many cases, we sacrifice the quantity of our sleep, whether it be due to a busy work schedule, watching television or socialising with friends. For those between the ages of 18-64 it is recommended that you get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each day. Here are some tips to help improve your sleep:

  • Avoid bright lights an hour before bed. Especially lights from TV’s and laptops, as this reduces the release of the melatonin, which makes us feel tired.
  • Set a regular time for sleep and waking up; this will help to create a routine.
  • Regular exercise can improve sleep quality by increasing the duration of deep sleep, which is essential for the process of rejuvenation.
  • Refrain from doing work tasks late at night, as they can be stressful and prevent good sleep.
  • Try reading to clear your mind, reduce stress and prepare the body for sleep.
  • Refrain from eating heavy meals late at night and foods such as chocolate, fatty or spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, all of which can disrupt sleep.
  • Other helpful tips for reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes:
  • Make use of the nutritional information on food packaging, much of which is highlighted in red, orange and green. If sugar content is highlighted as red, be sure to consume in small amounts.
  • Drink lots of water to keep hydrated.
  • Visit your GP and have your blood sugar tested; this is especially important if there is a family history of type-2 diabetes.
  • Follow a reduced-carbohydrate diet.

Remember that, by following the preventative measures above, you can address the causes of type-2 diabetes rather than relying on treatment of the symptoms with medication later down the line.


  1. www.diabetes.org.uk/Professionals/Position-statements-reports/Statistics
  2. www.diabetes.org.uk/preventing-type-2-diabetes/what-does-it-mean-if-im-at-risk
  3. www.diabetes.co.uk/type2-diabetes.html
  4. www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications
  5. ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/type-2-diabetes#genes
  6. www.bda.uk.com/improvinghealth/healthprofessionals/policy_statements/dietary_fat_consumption_the_management_type_2_diabetes
  7. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654180
  8. www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes
  9. www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-obesity.html
  10. academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/5/1118/4650903
  11. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5099401
  12. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5628550
  13. www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-sleep.html