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Watch those sugar levels

15 October 2008

You can help minimise the risk of diabetes by watching your diet and getting plenty of exercise, among other things.

Diabetes has become a major health problem and the number of diabetics is rising worldwide especially in developing countries like Malaysia. It is estimated that diabetes could affect 25 per cent of Malaysians by the year 2020.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that can seriously affect the quality of life as prolonged exposure to high glucose levels can cause nerve damage. The common symptoms of nerve damage include pain, numbness, tingling and burning sensation in the feet.

As nerve damage often causes lack of protective sensation in the feet, skin injuries can occur without being perceived by the patient as painful and then become chronic wounds. In severe cases, this may lead to amputation.

There is a lot a diabetic patient can do to prevent and delay nerve damage or reduce the symptoms. The key prevention is to keep your blood sugar at near normal levels.

1. Meal planning

For persons with diabetes, moderate weight loss, irrespective of the initial weight, has been shown to reduce hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and hypertension.

Diet should be high in fibre and complex carbohydrates but low in simple sugars and fats. The recommended intake of fibre for diabetics is similar to those of the general public, approximately 20 - 35g/day. A high fibre intake may help control sugar levels as well as reduce oral anti-diabetic medication. Grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables are highly recommended. Avoid animal fats, fried food and alcohol.

There is evidence that diabetics are more sodium-sensitive than the general population and thus, it is best to limit the intake. Limiting salt in the diet is also beneficial for those with syndrome-X (hypertension, hyperinsulinemia and high triglycerides).

2. Physical activity

Diabetics should start off with gentle exercises such as walking and cycling three times a week. Physical activity can enhance insulin sensitivity and improve glucose tolerance in individuals with diabetes.

Before starting a structured exercise programme, a diabetic should seek medical clearance from the doctor. The patientís clinical status, medical history and diabetes management plan are assessed before embarking on any exercise regime. This is to avoid problems such as hypoglycaemia.

3. Supplement your diet with Alpha Lipoic Acid

Oxidative stress has been associated with diabetes and neuropathy. When nerve damage occurs especially at the feet, the sufferer may complain of numbness or pins and needles. It appears to be primarily due to excessive free radical attacks on the nerves.

Therefore, supplementing with alpha lipoic acid may help slow down the progression of diabetic foot complications. In addition to its antioxidant activity, alpha lipoic acid has also been proven to improve the ability of the nerves to transmit signals and prevent structural breakdown of nerves caused by chronic elevated blood sugar levels.

4. Diabetic foot care

Diabetics should take good care of their feet and check on them every day. High quality foot wear should be used. They should also look out for sores, cuts or breaks in the skin, corns, calluses, blisters, red areas, swelling, in-grown toenails and toenail infections. Untreated injuries may lead to amputation.

It is important to seek early treatment if you have diabetic foot complications. Early recognition and treatment can definitely change the quality of life.

This article was first published in www.nst.com.my on 29. September 2008

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