Between 4 and 6 million people in South Africa have diabetes, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that that number will triple in the next 15 years.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90 per cent of cases.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin — the hormone that converts glucose into energy — or the body stops responding to insulin, triggering high levels of glucose in the blood. This causes symptoms such as fatigue, thirst, frequent urination, recurrent thrush and wounds that are slow to heal. Most people associate type 2 diabetes with being overweight, eating junk food or a couch-potato existence. Yet research suggests that modest weight gain, or even relatively minor disruptions to normal dietary patterns, could be enough to cause it.
So how do you know if you are at risk? Here, we reveal the less well-known factors that can increase your chances of developing this serious condition.
HAVING AN APPLE-SHAPED BODY
You don’t have to be obese to be at risk. Just carrying a few extra pounds around the waistline can be enough to cause the condition. Diabetes UK says a woman is at risk if her waist reaches 80cm. For a white or black man it’s 94cm, and it’s 90cm for South Asian men. This means people who may appear relatively slim but have a ‘pot belly’ or apple shape could be more at risk than someone who looks larger but deposits fat around their upper body, buttocks or thighs. This is because visceral fat, the type of fat that lies around the organs in the abdomen, is thought to pump out molecules that disrupt the normal balance of glucose and insulin, and also leads to damaging inflammation in blood vessels.
BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL
If you regularly get less than five hours’ sleep, your risk of getting diabetes is double that of someone who gets seven to eight hours. Scientists at Boston University in the U.S. studied 1 500 volunteers aged over 50, recording their sleep patterns and testing their levels of glucose. Five hours or less a night more than doubled the risks, while six hours was linked with a 60 percent rise in risk. It’s thought the danger arises because lack of rest upsets the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates natural sleep and wake cycles. ‘Being awake when we should be asleep increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes the generation of glucose (to provide energy to the body to keep it going),’ says Julian Halcox, professor of cardiology at Cardiff University.
Up to 15 percent of women in the UK suffer with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition where tiny cysts grow on the ovaries, preventing them from working properly. But many do not realise the condition can also lead to type 2 diabetes — at least ten percent of sufferers develop it. This is because, like diabetes, PCOS is linked to an insulin imbalance. As well as controlling blood sugar, insulin also stimulates the ovaries to make the hormone testosterone in women. If there is too much insulin in the blood, the ovaries produce excess testosterone, resulting in symptoms such as excess hair growth, acne, weight gain and depression. Once insulin levels begin to rise, damaging both the ovaries and the pancreas, a woman is well on her way to diabetes.