A quickfire A to Z of diabetes

Lots of research has been carried out about prevention and management of diabetes. Photo: Getty Images
Lots of research has been carried out about prevention and management of diabetes. Photo: Getty Images
It is estimated  15,000 people in the Southern district have diabetes but  a large number of people remain undiagnosed.

To mark World Diabetes Day today, WellSouth’s Helen Gibbs gives an alphabetical overview of what you need to know about diabetes and what you can do about it.

A is for activity. Being active reduces your risk of developing diabetes and helps you manage your blood glucose if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Activity doesn't need to be exercise; it can be housework, gardening, playing with kids.

B is for beer. If you drink, it's important to drink within safer limits. It's also really important to eat food. If you are on insulin or tablets that can make your blood glucose go low, tell someone you have diabetes.

C is for carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are starches and sugars. You don't need to eliminate carbs, but you may need to reduce portion size. Try to eat high-fibre and whole grains to keep your blood glucose level stable.

D is for dietitian. Dietitians give you advice on what to eat and when. They're not the food police, but help you learn to manage diabetes.

E is for eye exam. A photo of the back of your eyes taken each year can show if there is damage, even when the damage is very small. This appointment is an important part of your diabetes wellness plan.

F is for family and friends. It's great to have support and we like having family or friends come to our group education sessions. It's good for whanau to understand what will help you manage your condition.

G is for group education. There're many group education sessions around diabetes. WellSouth offers Walking Away for people with pre-diabetes, DESMOND for people who have T2DM, as well as a healthy lifestyle group for people who want more information on healthy eating. They're free of charge. Contact WellSouth (03 4771163) info@wellsouth.org.nz).

H is for HBA1c. This is a way of measuring blood glucose over a three-month period. It counts the amount of glucose (blood sugar) stuck to your red blood cells. (It is not the same numbers as the finger prick testing.) Talk to your GP about getting tested.

I is for insulin. Used since 1922, insulin is an important part of managing diabetes, keeping the HBA1c value at target (under 53 for many people). We may use insulin when we have maxed out on the other drugs. It's now given with a pen, and the needle is very, very small.

J is for journey. Diabetes is a journey and people on journeys need a map and guides. That is your healthcare team and good education, as well as your annual review to optimise your diabetes control.

K is for kidneys. Diabetes is the main cause of kidney disease in New Zealand. This is why we do tests to check how your kidneys are working.

L is for lipids. Controlling cholesterol is an important part of diabetes control. Lifestyle changes to have less saturated fat and more monounsaturated oils can help, but many people may also need to take statins, meant to help prevent complications such as heart attacks and strokes.

M is for meal planning. Plan what you are going to eat. Your family can eat the same foods as you, as an eating plan for someone with diabetes is the same as one that prevents diabetes.

N is for nurse. Terrific nurses in general practices do lots of the annual diabetes reviews. They'll check your circulation and sensation, look at your blood pressure and test results. Nurses work closely with other people in diabetes team, so if you have a question they can't answer, they will ask!

O is for ongoing research. There is lots of research about prevention and management of diabetes. In October 2019, Pharmac started funding Vidagliptin, which gives us a third group of drugs for diabetes.

P is for podiatrist. Feet matter. It is important you check your feet daily, wear the right shoes and socks and treat any cuts or infections. If they're not healing, see the doctor, who may refer you to a podiatrist.

Q is for questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question and for reliable advice try Diabetes NZ, Health Navigator or the Heart Foundation., the Diabetes NZ helpline (0800 342 238) and the Diabetes NZ Otago Branch.

R is for reversal of diabetes. Some research suggests that some people with Type 2 Diabetes can reverse their diagnosis - get their blood glucose (cholesterol and blood pressure) to within normal ranges. For most people this involves a 15kg weight loss and permanent lifestyle changes. Read more: Diabetes Reversal

S is for salt. Reducing salt intake is an important way to improve blood pressure.

T is for testing. Anyone with diabetes can ask for a glucose metre and get up to 50 strips per month on prescription. Testing before and two hours after meals teaches you about how your body is managing food, while measuring after exercise can show how you're using glucose better from movement.

U is for unusual. Did you know there are some unusual versions of diabetes that are very rare? If you think you have a rare type, talk to your GP.

V is for vaccination. Get your flu vaccine. People with diabetes are more likely to get sick and even die from flu.

W is for weight. Being overweight is one risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Other include family history, ethnicity, certain medications and some hormonal problems. Some people are normal weight when they get Type 2 diabetes.

X is for xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners can be useful transitional products, so people might use them in place of sugar, honey or syrups. But sweet foods should be reduced overall.

Y is for young people. Sadly, we have adolescents and even children getting a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes now. Also true - you can develop Type 1 at any life stage - hence why we no longer use "adult-onset" and "juvenile" to describe diabetes.

Z is for zzzzz. Sleep is one of the most overlooked health improvements to reduce our diabetes risk. Get 7-8 hours of sleep as adults - and more as adolescents and children. And make bedrooms screen free - try podcasts or audiobooks instead.

-Helen Gibbs is the nutrition development adviser/community dietitian with WellSouth.

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