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Why you should probably be worried about sugar and diabetes

Attempting to halt the family legacy of type 2 diabetes and vascular dementia was an imperative

August 20, 2014 | By:

One in three of us is now pre-diabetic (has dangerously raised sugar levels), and we all know Brits are eating way too much sugar. Julie Lardner reports on why she has completely given up sugar

Sugar and type 2 diabetes risk_doughnuts High50 Corbis

Research in the BMJ shows that one in three Brits is ‘borderline diabetic’. Photo from Corbis

Pre-diabetes has been in the health news this summer after research was published in the BMJ revealing a sobering statistic: a third of adults in the UK is likely to have pre-diabetes (raised sugar levels). 

With everyone now alert to the nation’s over-consumption of sugar, it’s another reminder to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices. Type 2 diabetes is a debilitating and devastating disease. Yet it is largely preventable.

What happens when you get type 2 diabetes

To lead healthy lives well into our old age and for our body to function properly, it needs to convert glucose from the foods we eat into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for this conversion to take place.

When things go wrong, as in type 2 diabetes, glucose is left to roam around in our bloodstream rather than enter our cells to be used as energy. The associated complications of diabetes are so staggering it’s worth a closer look.

Observational studies suggest there is a link between type 2 diabetes and cognitive impairment, dementia, depression, mobility impairment, disability, falls and urinary incontinence. If it’s not treated, type 2 diabetes can lead to blood vessel damage.

A review of relevant studies found that diabetes was associated with a 47 per cent increase of any dementia, a 39 per cent increase in Alzheimer’s disease and a whopping 138 per cent increase in vascular dementia.

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Much of the current research concludes that the main cause of type 2 diabetes is due to excessive weight gain and long-term obesity.

You might think, as I once did, that the long-term treatment of diabetes is just about cutting back on cakes and sweets and taking your prescribed medication. But, while it is recommended to minimise sugary foods, there has been no clear link suggested between sugar consumption and the onset of type 2 diabetes.

However, if this is the case, then surely it poses bigger questions, ones that we should all be asking. Why are type 2 diabetes and dementia, which appear to be linked, on the rise? Why are medical authorities warning us of the potential of an epidemic?

In the UK, 3.8 million people live with type 2 diabetes and 35 per cent of the population is pre-diabetic (meaning borderline diabetic). It is fast becoming a national health emergency.

Why I decided to give up sugar

Scientific evidence aside, watching my own mother suffer the consequences of type 2 diabetes for the last 20 years of her life was enough for me to take stock of my own health.

If maintaining a healthy weight was the primary cause of type 2 diabetes, it made perfect sense to quit sugar for good.

Of course, it’s never just one thing or as simple as just giving up certain food groups. There is more to avoiding type 2 diabetes than giving up sugar. Regular exercise, cutting back on refined carbs, minimising the consumption of processed foods (laden with sugar) and, of course, maintaining your weight within a healthy range are all paramount to prevention.

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, adopting a healthy lifestyle can prevent your risk by up to a massive 90 per cent.

With all this in mind, if I was going do something worthwhile that my future self would thank me for, then attempting to halt the family legacy of type 2 diabetes and vascular dementia was an imperative. The sugar had to go.

I gave up sugar just over two years ago. I had never been a big consumer of the sweet stuff, but there was enough in my diet to cause me concern. So, after researching the perils of sugar on my health and wellbeing, I decided to go cold turkey.

It’s not for everyone, but for me it seemed the best way. I set the date, cleaned out the cupboards and began a new life, sugar free.

It has become a statement in my life, which makes it so much easier when faced with the occasional birthday party cake, where the simple act of refusal feels like sticky situation in itself. It does become easier when you can simply say, “No thanks, I don’t eat sugar”. It actually feels quite liberating.

Is it time for you to give up sugar?

My own indignation over how much hidden sugar is in the foods we eat helped to strengthen my resolve and determination. Unless your diet is completely unpacked and unpackaged, you will find sugar EVERYWHERE.

This new-found knowledge led to something akin to an all-out boycott on foods with unnecessary sugar added. Why was so much sugar being added? For what purpose?

Has our taste for the sweet stuff become so commonplace that we don’t even realise how much we’re consuming?

It appears so. It seems we have become desensitised to the presence of sugar in our foods and, personally, I don’t like the idea of it.

Like all ground swells, a debate has begun to rage, as it should. Everyone has a point of view. Some say moderation is just fine; others say avoid all sugars including fruits with fructose.

Debate is good. It is the beginning of change and judging by the statistics on diseases such as obesity, diabetes and dementia, change is very necessary.

If you are considering giving up sugar, take the time and do a bit of your own research. It will help your determination and chance of success. You may, like me, find that saying no to sugar gives you more than just a trimmer waistline; it may go a long way in lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes and dementia.  

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