Removing the stigma around Diabetes
Posted on January 25th, 2018
By Melissa, The Bare Scientist
Diabetes awareness is finally getting the recognition that it deserves, with the importance on health outcomes being sternly communicated. More than ever before, the population are now confidently able to differentiate between the two main diabetes types, which is extremely promising as the educational piece is very much required in order to understand and act on such a serious and prolonged disease. For a quick and standard crash course, type 1 diabetes (T1D) is the autoimmune disease in which the pancreas does not produce insulin; insulin being the required hormone responsible for control of blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) tends to be more lifestyle related, whereby the pancreas may not produce enough or insulin or the body somewhat does not react to insulin in the way that it should.
The most recent theme of World Diabetes Day (November 14th 2017) was “Women and Diabetes: Our Right to a Healthy Future”. At present, there are over 199 million women globally living with diabetes, which is anticipated to increase to 313 million by the year 2040. Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women worldwide and whilst that may seem low down the list to some, this equates to 2.1 million deaths every year. Additionally, two in five women (60 million women worldwide) with diabetes are of the reproductive age diabetes; equating to some having elevated risk of complications conceiving and poor pregnancy outcomes. Let’s not even forget that one in seven births are affected by gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) which can be a high-risk threat to both maternal and child health.
GDM can occur at any stage of pregnancy but is more common in the second half. The pregnant mother is unable to produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs in pregnancy2. Whilst most women with GDM experience normal pregnancies, there can be complications such as elevated blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), polyhydramnios (excessive amniotic fluid in the womb which can cause premature labour and birth), large birth weight babies where induced labour or caesarean section is required or even development of low blood sugar or jaundice within the newborn baby.
Gestational diabetes can often not illustrate any symptoms however where blood sugar levels are particularly elevated (hyperglycaemia), potential symptoms may include increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue and dry mouth syndrome. These can often be overlooked as typical symptoms of pregnancy, and so any symptoms experienced should be discussed with your general practitioner or midwife. It is also quite common for GDM sufferers to further develop T2D, however risk of development can be reduced if GDM is detected and managed very well through lifestyle; most commonly healthy changes in diet and increasing physical activity whilst reducing sedentary levels. If left untreated, T2D can cause damage to the heart, nerves, kidneys, blood vessels and eyes.
Typical symptoms of T2D in both men and women can range from increased thirst (polydipsia) and urination (polyuria), increased appetite (polyphagia), blurred vision, fatigue, dizziness, slow healing and nausea. Even still, unique symptoms exist to women and whilst there may be a giggle or two, we need to be aware of our bodies and wholeheartedly embrace them and be as knowledgeable as possible. Female-specific symptoms of T2D may include thrush and yeast infections, female sexual dysfunction (lack of sex drive, painful intercourse) and even difficulty with arousal or orgasm.
Whilst it may serve as a shock to some of you, in clinic I am frequently visited by quite young pre-diabetic patients which of course is a concern from a health point of view, but I pass no judgement. I get young ladies and gents barely in their early twenties scared to come in, and they have a look of embarrassment when they also see a fairly young person running clinic because they are under the impression that they’re about to be judged and ridiculed. However, I am thankful to say that they leave empowered and informed, feeling glad that they turned up to their appointment.
On the contrary, there are some young people who do not turn up and it is generally due to fear of judgement due to the stigma around diabetes and obesity. I’ve had patients say to me that they were initially scared to attend as they thought they’d be fat shamed, be viewed as lazy, or even worse…stupid. That trail of thought gets nipped in the bud pretty quickly and I move away from stigma and onto education and points of action.
At present, the main risk factors of T2D for the majority of the population are poor diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and smoking. Some of the most important changes the average individual can make to help reduce their chances of preventing or delaying the onset of T2D are eating a healthy diet full of various nutrient-dense foods. Our diets are as varied as we are, so there is definitely not a “one size fits all” approach. Generally speaking, including a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables is a great starting point. Leaner cuts of meat are recommended and of course getting in some movement is key. Moderate activity will effectively raise your heart rate, and remember to do activity that you will actually enjoy doing. Exercise is not supposed to be a form of punishment but a tool to aid with physical and mental health.
I have a few people in my immediate circles who do unfortunately have to deal with diabetes (type 1 and 2) in their everyday life. Does it make them any different to me? Definitely not. Can things be slightly more challenging for them? Somewhat but not much as they don’t make a big deal of it and don’t expect anybody else to. My type 1 diabetic friends can still do everything that I can and even more. My type 2 diabetic friends focus on what they put into their diet a lot, and they are able to control their blood sugars without insulin. Are they labelled in any which way? Not at all. They are seen as equals within their circles; whether it be in their day-to-day lives at work or around family and friends.
It is quite unfortunate and disturbing that there is still such stigma surrounding diabetes, and there is still a long way to go in order to ensure people take the condition seriously before it becomes an issue that could have been avoided where type 2 is concerned. Women and men alike have a right to information to help make informed choices around healthy lifestyle. Every single person has a right to have access to diagnosis, treatment and education to live a healthier and better way of life. If you are worried about your blood glucose levels, the best place to start is with your GP as they are the utmost qualified professional to make any diagnosis. Any further nutritional or dietary information can come from a qualified professional such as a registered nutritionist or dietitian.
The Bare Scientist, otherwise known as Melissa is a very impassioned scientist who has a multi-disciplinary background with a specialist focus on nutrition. Melissa currently holds three degrees; with two specialising in nutrition and clinical research in type 2 diabetes.
As an Association for Nutrition (AfN) registered associate nutritionist, Melissa takes evidence-based nutrition very seriously. Currently researching type 2 diabetes and working in clinic with pre-diabetics to ensure they lower their risk by changing lifestyle habits, Melissa also works as a clinical research scientist, investigating clinical trial health outcomes of patients across a variety of disease states. A true foodie, one main goal of The Bare Scientist is to educate people around the power and importance of eating variety; making sure that people know eating healthy doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Her philosophy is that food is meant to be enjoyed and can be as visually appealing and tasteful as necessary.
Whilst ‘The Bare Scientist’ website is in process, you can find Melissa on Instagram (@the_bare_scientist). Whilst they may look niche, all foods tend to use simple enough plant-based ingredients, but are presented with an artistic flair to capture people’s eyes to prove that healthy eating can be as elaborate or as simple as you choose.
 World Health Organisation (WHO), (2017). Diabetes Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/ [accessed: November 2017]
 International Diabetes Federation (2017). WDD 2017: Women and Diabetes. Available at: http://www.worlddiabetesday.org/about-wdd/wdd-2017.html [accessed November 2017]
 Diabetes.co.uk (2017). Diabetes Symptoms in Women. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-symptoms-in-women.html [accessed November 2017]