Diabetes, Diet, and Mental Health
“The mind and the body are not separate. What affects one, affects the other.” – Dr Joe Kosterich.
Over the past few years, the number of searches on pathologies has increased. In fact, approximately 40% of the population consults “Dr Google” on the subject of disease. A question then comes to mind: Which diseases?
Currently, the top 10 are:
- Yeast infection
- Lyme disease
Today, we’re going to talk about number 1 in the polls, diabetes. Specifically, Type 2 diabetes and how lifestyle can act as disease control.
The number of people with diabetes is increasingly alarming. According to 2015 data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), more than 400 million adults worldwide have the disease. In 2025, it is expected to exceed 700 million. That’s a lot of people! This major public health problem can be controlled with information, education, and willpower.
What is Diabetes?
“Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces.” (IDF, 2020)
There are two types: type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In this article, our focus will be type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for around 90% of all diabetes cases.
“It is generally characterized by insulin resistance, where the body does not fully respond to insulin. Because insulin cannot work properly, blood glucose levels keep rising, releasing more insulin. For some people with type 2 diabetes, this can eventually exhaust the pancreas, resulting in the body producing less and less insulin, causing even higher blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia).” (IDF, 2020)
What causes Insulin Resistance?
“Blood sugar needs an invitation to come into your cells. And that invitation is insulin, the key that unlocks the front door of your muscle cells so glucose can enter. Without insulin, that’s not possible.
So, what’s jamming up the door locks on your muscle cells, preventing insulin from letting glucose enter? Fat, more specifically, intramyocellular lipid, the fat inside your muscle cells.”
Interestingly, the number of individual fat cells in your body doesn’t change much in adulthood, no matter how much weight you gain or lose. For instance: if your belly gets bigger you are not necessarily creating new fat cells; rather, you’re just cramming more fat into existing ones. (Greger, 2016)
You might think, if the risk of insulin resistance is related to the “fat” level, the only risk group for type 2 diabetes would be overweight/obese people. However, the level of fat is related to what you consume therefore, a trim person eating a high-fat diet also to be in the risk group.
If what we eat influences our health, what should we do to help ourselves prevent diabetes?
As we have seen, food choice is an extremely important point when it comes to health. Food has a direct influence on the illness factor. In the case of type 2 diabetes, choosing a healthy diet will reduce the risk factors for the disease.
Whole food plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. (Harvard, 2020)
The book “How Not to Die” shares a lot of good information on this topic.
Lifestyle changes have an important role in preventing many diseases. In the case of type 2 diabetes, as we have seen, food and physical activity have an extremely important role, since the level of fat is a primary factor for the development of the disease.
“Individuals that consume plant-based meals experienced improved blood sugar control as well as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people who followed diets that included more animal products.” (Greger, 2016)
According to the American Diabetes Association, exercising frequently can lower blood glucose and improve A1C (glycated haemoglobin test) levels. The association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise for five days a week or a total of 150 minutes a week. If you haven’t done any exercise before, it’s good to consult your doctor and start slowly, for example, a daily walk.
Another important point to be considered is emotional health.
Emotional stress increases the risk of developing diabetes for several reasons. The first reason has a hormonal cause: chronic stress increases the level of the hormone cortisol, which causes, among other things, the increase in abdominal fat and which in turn increases the risk of diabetes.
The second reason is precisely through the person’s behaviour. There is a clear relationship between emotional stress and bad lifestyle habits, such as wrong eating (more food or poor-quality food), physical inactivity, smoking and alcoholism. Studies point to a common path: those with high levels of stress also develop harmful behavioural habits that together add to a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
We are going through a difficult time in human history. This includes sadness, losses, social isolation, financial instability. It is not easy to always keep a healthy mind. So, more than ever, it is important to do the little things for ourselves that make a difference in our health.
Choose your food well, do physical activity daily and keep thinking positively.
Author: Diana Dias – Nurse at the University of the Sapucai Valley, Brazil, certified as a Specialist in preventative and natural health
Greger M.D., Michael, “How Not to Die”. Macmillan, p. 100-121, 2016.