What You Need to Know about Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is in the news a lot lately. In Australia, the rates of all types of diabetes are increasing. According to Diabetes Australia, Type 2 diabetes is rising at the fastest rate, with an estimated 2 million Australians at high risk and showing early signs of the condition.

But what exactly is diabetes? Glad you asked! We get asked this question a lot, so in this post, we’ll walk you through the three kinds of diabetes—Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes. We’ve even created an infographic, What You Need to Know About Diabetes, that you’re welcome to download as a handy reference.

If you want to know more about hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia, check out our post- ​What are Hypoglycaemia and Hyperglycaemia and how are they related to Diabetes?

Let’s break it down. Diabetes, also known as Diabetes Mellitus, is a chronic disease in which the body cannot properly regulate blood glucose.

Glucose is a form of sugar that our bodies use to make energy. Think of it like petrol for your car. When we eat, our bodies break the food down into smaller components that we can use more easily. One of these components is glucose.

Glucose is usually removed from the blood and let into cells that make up the body’s muscles, tissues, and organs by a hormone called insulin.

Insulin is a hormone created by beta cells in the pancreas. Its primary function in the body is to open doors into the cells. These doors are called glucose channels. They allow glucose to move out of the blood and into the cells, where your body can use it for energy.


Why too much glucose is not good for you.

Having too much glucose in your blood for long periods can lead to organ damage in your eyes, heart, kidneys, and nerves. It can lead to a loss of feeling in your hands or feet, vision loss, and other health complication such as kidney disease.

Depending on why your blood glucose levels are higher, you can use diet and exercise to treat diabetes. Treatment may also include different forms of medication.

It’s estimated that 422 million people worldwide have diabetes.​

There are three main types of diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system works to destroy cells found in the pancreas called beta cells responsible for creating insulin.

Suppose your pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. In that case, you’ll need to use insulin injections or an insulin pump to get the insulin you need. That’s why people with Type 1 diabetes have to monitor their blood glucose levels throughout the day frequently and adjust their insulin intake accordingly.

The facts.
Type 1 diabetes most commonly occurs in people before the age of 30 but can occur at any age and makes up around 10% of all diabetes cases.

When the body develops Type 1 diabetes, the onset is usually quite fast. You may develop symptoms, including excessive thirst, frequent urination, continuous hunger, weakness or fatigue, mood swings, and unintentional weight loss.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, and changing lifestyle factors won’t prevent it. To date, we don’t know what causes the autoimmune response that leads to Type 1 diabetes, but scientists believe there to be a familial genetic component.

For more information, have a read of our nutrition update 5 Things You Need to Know About Type 1 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that develops over time. It usually develops in people over 45, but like Type 1, it can develop at any age.

Type 2 diabetes represents around 80-90% of diabetes cases.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to meet your body’s needs or when there is insulin resistance. These factors mean that glucose may build up in the blood and lead to high blood sugar levels, which can cause damage to the organs and tissues.

Who can get Type 2 diabetes?

You’re more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, smoke cigarettes, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or are of Chinese, Pacific Islander, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
Most people who develop Type 2 diabetes won’t display many symptoms, but symptoms may include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased or excessive urination
  • Tiredness
  • Increased skin infections
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches

You can effectively manage Type 2 diabetes with diet and lifestyle changes as recommended by the peak dietetic body, Dietitians Australia. However, as it progresses, you may require medications or insulin.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in women during pregnancy, usually around the 24-28th week. Around 12-14% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. For the majority of women, it will go away after their baby is born.
Gestational diabetes occurs because the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with the mother’s insulin. It may result in her insulin need increasing to 2-3 times the normal amount.

In turn, this puts pressure on the pancreas to keep up the production of insulin. If the pancreas can’t keep with the increased demand, glucose can build up in the blood, causing damage if left untreated.

Thankfully, gestational diabetes is usually easily managed with diet and lifestyle changes. Some women may require oral medication or insulin injections

How is a woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes?

Women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes when they have higher than normal blood glucose levels during their pregnancy. Diagnosis includes a fasting blood glucose level test conducted after an overnight fast. If results come back higher than usual, a woman may need to complete an oral glucose tolerance test.

The oral glucose tolerance test involves having your blood sugar levels measured before drinking a sugary drink. Levels are rechecked at one hour and two hours after consuming the drink. If your blood glucose levels are higher than the normal healthy range, you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Most women with gestational diabetes have a healthy and normal pregnancy and a healthy baby. However, having gestational diabetes does increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Who’s at risk?
Women who are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes include:

Most people who develop Type 2 diabetes won’t display many symptoms, but symptoms may include:

  • Women 40 years or older
  • Women who are above their healthy weight range
  • Women with a family history of diabetes
  • Women who have experienced gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
  • Women who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Women of Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Polynesian, or Indian heritage, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

What to do if you suspect you have diabetes.

Diet and lifestyle play an essential part in the management of diabetes. A healthy diet can also reduce further complications associated with diabetes, such as cardiovascular or kidney disease.

We’re here to help and will work with you to get the balance back.
Call us on 0423 206 939 to make an appointment with one of our accredited practising dietitians.