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Act now to live well

A survey by Diabetes NZ revealed that many diabetics experience negative attitudes on a daily basis. In Diabetes Month, Kelly Pelham sheds light on the condition . . .

What do Halle Berry, Larry King and Tom Hanks have in common?

These famous celebs all live with diabetes.

You wouldn’t have guessed it seeing them on the big screen or TV, yet chances are their ability to work has been questioned; their food choices judged and criticised. Or, worst of all, they have been blamed for developing diabetes in the first place.

For everyday Kiwis, this negative stigma is part of life. One quarter of a million New Zealanders have been diagnosed with diabetes and shockingly, a recent survey from Diabetes NZ has revealed, most encounter negative attitudes on a daily basis.

In light of Diabetes Month this is a good time to reflect on our own attitudes, and support those to “Act Now to Live Well”.

What is diabetes?Diabetes mellitus, referred to as diabetes, is a group of conditions characterised by too much glucose in the bloodstream. You may be more familiar with Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for approximately 90 percent of diagnoses.

This type is typically viewed as a middle-aged and elderly condition where, over time, the body’s cells become resistant to insulin* action.

Unfortunately, for many Kiwis with Type 2 Diabetes it is wrongly assumed they developed this condition because of their weight. The fact is, anyone can develop Type 2 diabetes regardless of weight. Yes, being overweight is a risk factor, but it is just one of many factors including ethnicity, family history, age and blood pressure.

Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune condition where the pancreatic insulin-making cells (beta cells) are attacked and destroyed. The result is the pancreas can no longer make insulin and glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

Type 1 Diabetics have to take on their pancreas’s role, injecting insulin between two to four times daily or via an insulin pump.

This type of diabetes usually shows up at a young age and families can go through an emotional roller coaster ride of shock, denial, anger, sadness, and guilt.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy if the Mum-to-be’s hormones are making it harder for insulin action, along with the growing foetus putting extra insulin demands on Mum. But unlike Type 1 and 2, Gestational diabetes can resolve once baby is born. Although your risk of developing Type 2 later in life increases.

Is diabetes a serious condition?Diabetes can lead to serious complications if it is not properly managed. Continually high blood glucose damages vessels and nerves, diminishing their function and causing problems with the eyes, kidneys, feet, heart or brain.

Extremely low levels can cause confusion, fits, or unconsciousness. However, this does not mean people with diabetes are any less able to achieve. They can continue to work at the top of their game, make podium in their sport, win Nobel Prizes, and write books or music to remember.

What is concerning is that many people with diabetes feel too ashamed to tell others of their condition. They are too embarrassed to be seen eating; or too self-conscious to inject insulin, despite their lives depending on it. If public perception of diabetes remains as it is, it becomes a very serious condition for those unsupported by family, friends and colleagues.

Do diabetics have to follow a strict diet?There is no such thing as a “Diabetes Diet” but certain habits help manage blood glucose levels. With Type 2 and Gestational, this often means following the Healthy Food Plate Model of ½ plate of colourful vegetables, ¼ plate of starch or grains and ¼ plate of lean protein — habits that would benefit most of us anyway.

Some people are quick to cut out carbohydrates completely. This is unnecessary and can lead to other health problems later on. The amount and type of carbohydrates is key though, and changes to carbohydrate intake may be needed.

Type 1 diabetics have a different approach to managing their blood glucose by adjusting their insulin dose to carbohydrate intake. No one with diabetes should be made to feel ashamed of what they eat.

Yet 68 percent of Type 1 and 40 percent of Type 2 diabetics have experienced judgement by others of what they eat.

How can I support someone with diabetes?Learning more about someone’s condition is the first step. Knowing the type of diabetes, symptoms of low and high blood glucose, management strategies, and their goals will help you offer the right kind of support. Be empathetic, throw away any assumptions you may have and remember, no one is harder on those with diabetes than them themselves. To learn more about Diabetes and ‘Act Now to Live Well’ visit www.diabetes.org.nz.

Insulin is the key hormone controlling glucose transport from the bloodstream to body cells in order for our body to use glucose for energy.

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Kelly Pelham is a New Zealand-registered dietitian and sports nutrition educator. As a fanatical foodie with a passion for health and nutrition, dietetics was the perfect path, she says. Based at Three Rivers Medical, Kelly is committed to helping people accomplish their nutrition, health or sporting goals.