Health & Well-being13th October 2013

Diabetes - That will never happen to me

Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise, but some good eating habits and regular exercise can reduce your risk

by Simon Deacy OBE

If there is one thing I decided as a child, it was that I would never get diabetes. I was wrong! My father was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was aged 17. As a young child growing up, I got to know a lot about his illness, because my father’s diabetes was something we all had to cope with.

When he was first diagnosed, he was told he was unlikely to live past 55. He was insulin dependent and the stress and strain put on the heart and the rest of the body, meant that he was given a limited life-span. I’m pleased to say that aged 73, he is still about and through regular exercise he looks good for his age and is still fit and active.

It wasn’t always like that. I don't know if my father wanted to fight against his diabetes, but he seemed to fight against a lot of the advice he was given to manage and control it. The implication of that is family members have to learn the tell tale signs that he either had too much sugar in his body or had too much insulin. That issue was a daily balancing act.

When the balance is wrong, the consequence can be quite severe, fatal if uncorrected. Looking back, I suppose some of my father’s drunk-like behaviour was probably quite funny, but at 10 years old and knowing you had to do something to correct it, it was no fun at all. Even today, 40 years on, I can still remember the stress and panic that induced because in this type of ‘drunk-like’ state, he always pushed the glass of lemonade away and steadfastly refused to drink it.

I’d like to say this was a rare occurrence, but sadly it was not. Out in public, or at events or functions, we all used to watch him like a hawk, looking for that first sign that his blood-sugar levels were not right and jumping in to correct it before he started to act strangely and attract attention. Consequently, I grew up far too fast, became far too sensible too early, and have deeply resented diabetes ever since. Seeing what it had done to me, I was adamant that I would not get it and have my children have to deal with the same issues.

The problem is that I took my eye off the ball. An increasingly sedentary work life, that had me working on a computer for long periods in work and when I got home, meant that my waistline started to expand. I still exercised, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I should have done something about it, but I put work as my first, second and third priorities, at the expense of everything else.

Just before I turned 51, I began to feel little niggly things going wrong with my body. I began to have a thirst that could not be quenched. I constantly had this funny, but incredibly annoying tingling on the end of my tongue. To my wife’s annoyance, I started needing to get up in the night for a little tinkle. Not once, or twice, but sometimes four, five and on one occasion, seven times (not that I was counting!). I started to lose weight, which was great, but I knew it wasn’t for the right reasons.

​With my knowledge of diabetes, I knew what it was, so, determined never to have it, I just tried to ignore it and hoped it went away. As the weeks went on, I was getting more tired through the disrupted sleep and eventually plucked up enough courage to see my GP. One prick of my finger to test my blood-sugar level, and that was it – I had diabetes – and I had a reading that came as a shock to my doctor.

So, what now? Well, I am filled with regret. I know this is my fault and I know I should have done more to prevent it. I have Type 2, rather than my father’s Type 1, which can be easier to manage and does not have the same daily balancing act requirement, but it has still completely changed my life.

The chocolate I used to love, is now a no-no. Biscuits, cakes, ice-cream and desserts, are more or less no-no’s, apart from the occasional treat. I now have to watch everything I eat and try to get the right amount of carbohydrates. I was never a big drinker, but alcohol intake has to be very measured. Whilst I am trying to bring my stupidly high blood-sugar level down, I have to take tablets every day and I will always have to take tablets to control my cholesterol.

I hate the fact that I am diabetic, but whilst I let myself and my family down in not preventing it in the first place, I am adamant that I will at least control it perfectly through my diet and a new routine of exercise, so that it has no bearing on my family’s quality of life.

I just wish I had looked after myself better through my 30’s and 40’s, as that would have prevented me from getting it and all of the increased health risks that come with diabetes.

1. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level, or your body is unable to use the insulin that is produced (insulin resistance). The pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which moves glucose from your blood into your cells, where it is converted into energy. In type 2 diabetes, there are several reasons why the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you:

  • are over 40 years old
  • have a relative with the condition
  • are overweight or obese


Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age. This may be because people tend to gain weight and exercise less as they get older. Maintaining a healthy weight through a good, balanced diet and exercising regularly, are ways of preventing and managing diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes often develops in white people over the age of 40. In recent years, an increasing number of younger people are developing the condition. It is also becoming more common for children, in some cases as young as seven, to develop type 2 diabetes.


Genetics is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Your risk is increased if you have a close relative, such as a parent, brother or sister, who has the condition. The closer the relative, the greater the risk. A child who has a parent with type 2 diabetes has about a one-in-three chance of also developing it.

Being overweight or obese

If you are overweight or obese (a body mass index of 30 or greater), you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In particular, fat around your abdomen (tummy) puts you at increased risk. This is because it releases chemicals that can upset the body's cardiovascular and metabolic systems. This then increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. 

A quick way of assessing your diabetes risk is to measure your waist. This is a measure of abdominal obesity, which is a particularly high-risk form of obesity. Women have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if their waist measures 31.5 inches (80cm) or more. Men with a waist size of 37 inches (94cm) or over have a higher risk. Reducing your body weight by about 5% and exercising regularly, could reduce your risk of getting diabetes by more than 50%.

2. Preventing heart disease 

There are several ways you can reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), such as, lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet - A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains. You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day, because too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase your cholesterol levels.

Foods high in saturated fat include meat pies, sausages, and fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cream, hard cheese, cakes and biscuits.

However, a balanced diet should include a small amount of unsaturated fat, which will help reduce your cholesterol levels. Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oil

You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet, as this can increase your chances of developing diabetes.

Be more physically active - Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure. Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, it will lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Keep to a healthy weight - Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what your ideal weight is in relation to your build and height. Alternatively, find out what your BMI (body mass index) is by using a BMI calculator.

Give up smoking - If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing CHD. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50.

Reduce your alcohol consumption - If you drink, stick to recommended guidelines. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for men is three to four units a day and two to three units for women. Always avoid binge drinking.

Keep your blood pressure under control - You can keep your blood pressure under control by eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, and if required, taking the appropriate medication to lower your blood pressure.

Your target blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, ask your GP to check your blood pressure regularly.

Keep your diabetes under control - If you are diabetic, you have a greater risk of developing CHD. If you have diabetes, being physically active, controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level. If you are diabetic, your target blood pressure level is below 130/80mmHg. If you have CHD, you may be prescribed medication to help relieve your symptoms and stop further problems developing. If you do not have CHD, but do have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent you developing heart-related problems.

If you are prescribed medication, it is vital you take it and follow the correct dosage. Do not stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first, as doing so is likely to make your symptoms worse and put your health at risk.

Fruit and vegetables are part of a balanced diet and can help us stay healthy. That’s why it is so important that we get enough of them.

3. Why 5 A Day?

5 A DAY highlights the health benefits of getting five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and veg together.

Five reasons to get five portions:

  • They are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.
  • They are an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems. A diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
  • They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.

Fruit and vegetables are also usually low in fat and calories (provided you don’t fry them or roast them in lots of oil). That is why eating them can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart healthy.

To get the most benefit out of your 5 A DAY, your five portions should include a variety of fruit and vegetables. This is because different fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Article by Simon Deacy OBE

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Health & Well-being

13th October 2013