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As levels of type 2 diabetes continue to soar, Michael Mosley reveals the new thinking behind the disease, how to recognise the danger signs and what you can do to stay healthy.
There are good things about getting older, such as more mature relationships and not being so worried about how your career will turn out. But there are also significant disadvantages, such as putting on weight despite eating exactly the same amount of food.
Piling on the pounds (or perhaps that should that be kilos) is not, in and of itself, necessarily a bad thing. It depends where that extra fat goes. If it goes on the arms or buttocks it’s broadly benign. It’s when it goes on the tummy that you have problems.
Fat around and inside your abdomen, also known as visceral fat, does a lot of damage. It clogs up your liver, pancreas and other internal organs, massively increasing your risk of things like hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Four years ago I discovered, while having a body scan, that I was a TOFI. Thin on the outside, fat inside. I also discovered that I had, without knowing it, become a type 2 diabetic, like my dad. It is a condition that tends to run in families, though it is now on the rise everywhere.
I managed to reverse my diabetes by going on the 5:2 diet (a diet I invented while making a documentary on intermittent fasting, “Eat, Fast, Live Longer” for the BBC science series, “HORIZON”). On that diet I lost 8kgs, my blood sugars went back to normal and have stayed that way since.
I’ve spent the intervening years finding out all I can about type 2 diabetes, and what I’ve learnt has really shaken me.
Type 2 diabetes is a modern plague, the greatest health threat of our times. Rates have increased across the board by around 60% over the last decade and those risks rise sharply with age. At least a quarter of the over 60s now have the disease, and there are plenty more who are have it but have not yet been diagnosed
urinating more often than usual, particularly at night.
What is perhaps even more scary than the rapid rise in rates of diabetes is the recent surge in prediabetes, where you have a raised blood sugar but it is not yet in the diabetic range. Rates of prediabetes have tripled in the last decade, accounting for more than a third of the population.
Prediabetes is less serious, but it still significantly raises your risk of heart disease. Around 30% of prediabetics will go on to develop diabetes within 5 years. The figures are higher and progression to full disease is much faster is you are of Asian descent. In fact if you come from almost any ethnic minority group.
It is almost symptomless and unless you have been recently tested it is extremely unlikely you will know you have it.
Being a type 2 diabetic, even when you are treated, doubles you risk of heart disease and dementia. 7000 limbs are cut off every year in the UK because of diabetes. It is the number one cause of blindness, impotence and kidney failure.
The reason I am banging on about this is because it is possible to prevent prediabetes turning into diabetes, and it is also possible to reverse diabetes.
I have written a book, The Blood Sugar Diet, which is all about raised blood sugar levels and how to deal with them. It is largely based on the work of Professor Roy Taylor of Newcastle University, who has been working on this problem for over 20 years.
He has shown, using high powered scanning technology, that the main cause of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes (also known as insulin resistance state) is when the level of fat in your liver and your pancreas gets so high it stops them working properly. This will depend on your personal fat threshold, which varies from person to person. Some people can become hugely overweight but not become diabetic (because the fat is not being laid down internally), while others can be normal weight and yet become diabetic.
What Professor Taylor has also shown is that it is possible to prevent and indeed reverse type 2 diabetes by going on a special 800 calorie diet. In his studies, if you have been diabetic for less than 4 years there is an 87% chance of success. If it's more than 8 years then success rates fall to something more like 50%. Even so, this is a remarkable success.
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