Diabetes in Australia

How many Australians have diabetes?

Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century and the biggest challenge confronting Australia’s health system. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes. This includes all types of diagnosed diabetes (1.2 million known and registered) as well as silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (up to 500,000 estimated) – source Diabetes Australia. 

The total number of people with diabetes in Australia is rising, and further increases are expected over the next decade.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a major problem that significantly affects the health of Australians. It may result in a range of complications which can cause disability, and reduce people’s quality of life and life expectancy. Diabetes is responsible for an enormous public health and social burden, and is one of the top 10 causes of death in Australia.

Diabetes is a long-term (chronic) condition in which the body loses its ability to control the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulin is a hormone produced by special cells in the pancreas that helps the body to convert glucose from food into energy. People with diabetes don’t have enough insulin, so glucose stays in the blood instead of being turned into energy, causing high blood sugar levels. Different insulin abnormalities cause different types of diabetes. Four main types of diabetes exist: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and other diabetes.

In people with insulin-treated diabetes, blood glucose can become too low which can lead to the brain and the body being unable to function properly. If the blood glucose levels are too high, various organs, such as the eyes and the kidneys, can be damaged.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes mainly occurs in children or young adults, although it can occur at any age. In type 1 diabetes the body stops making insulin. Without insulin, the body cells cannot turn glucose (sugar) into energy and burns its own fats as a substitute. Unless treated with daily injections of insulin, people with type 1 diabetes accumulate dangerous chemicals in their blood from the burning of fat, causing a condition known as ketoacidosis. This condition is potentially life threatening if not treated.

Most cases of type 1 diabetes are caused by the destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas by the body’s immune system. According to self-reported data from the 2007–08 National Health Survey, around 10% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs mostly in people aged 50 years and over but, although still uncommon in childhood, is becoming increasingly recognised in that group. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but may not produce enough or cannot use it effectively. Type 2 diabetes may be managed with changes to diet and exercise, oral glucose-lowering drugs, insulin injections or a combination of these. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 87% of all people with diabetes, according to self-reported data from the 2007–08 National Health Survey.

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes

The good news is that the recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program study conclusively showed that people can prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes by increasing their level of physical activity and making changes in their diet. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, coupled with a 5-10% reduction in body weight, produced a 58% reduction in diabetes.

And a healthy diet, cantered around fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps you prevent and reverse diabetes in three important ways:

  • Blood sugar levels remain level throughout the day.
  • The body is receiving the nutrition it needs in a steady stream throughout the day. This reduces cravings that can cause spikes in blood sugar.
  • Body weight and fat are reduced naturally to healthy levels.

Fruit Juice is usually off limits to diabetics because it contains too much sugar (10% the same amount found in lemonade). However, whole food juice made in the Vitamix is different as we gain access to all the precious fibre which actually metabolises the sugar in our body (so there is no rush or spike in sugar levels).