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How losing weight helped keep our diabetes in check

By Karen Ireland

Diabetes is on the up here and affects thousands of families, but a new report says watching your weight could mean Type 2 sufferers could be disease-free for 20 years. We talk to two people who have learned to manage the condition.

The number of people here suffering from both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is rising more quickly than anywhere else in the UK, according to Diabetes NI.

And the vast majority of sufferers - 85%, or just over 72,000 people - have Type 2 diabetes, which is largely managed through diet and exercise.

A new report, though, has revealed some good news for those with Type 2 - that losing just one gram of fat from the pancreas could cure the disease.

A study by doctors at Newcastle University show that Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by fat clogging up this vital organ which supplies insulin to keep sugar levels under control, could be a thing of the past with the right weight management regime in place.

The findings indicated that those suffering from Type 2 diabetes, who lost one gram of fat from their pancreas when they followed a weight loss programme, had regained normal insulin production levels - their diabetes had gone after eight weeks.

The doctors believe that the recovered patients can remain free of the disease and drug free for up to 20 years.

We talk to two local people who have Type 2 diabetes.

‘The pounds are coming off and it’s making a huge difference’

Pat Ramsey (57), SDLP MLA and former Lord Mayor of Londonderry, lives in the city with his wife Chris. They have four children Nicola (38), Patrick (36), Michelle (31) and Aine (15). He says:

Being told you have diabetes is very traumatic and daunting, that's a fact. Not just for you but for your whole family, as they suddenly have to start thinking about how you are managing your lifestyle and if you are doing everything you should to keep the condition under control.

I noticed a change in my health when my sleeping patterns started being disturbed and I was running to the toilet a lot more. Plus,I was always thirsty.

Looking back and knowing all that I know now these are classic symptoms of diabetes. I initially thought, the doctors were testing me for different conditions. Eventually, I was told I had Type 2 diabetes. It did come as a shock and you do start to think about all the risks that are associated with the condition, such as increased risk of stroke, heart conditions and foot problems.

In Northern Ireland, thousands of people have limbs amputated every year because of diabetes. When it comes down to it, it is all about early diagnosis and proper management of the condition.

I was lucky as I didn't drink, as alcohol is high in sugar and very bad for people with diabetes.

When I was diagnosed I started to watch my weight and was very careful about what I ate. I have always struggled with my weight.

When I lost weight, I was so much healthier. My blood sugar levels were good and I felt much better about myself.

Managing the condition with proper eating, a healthy lifestyle and weight loss definitely helps keep the condition in check.

I am currently on a new medical trial working with my consultant at Altnagelvin Hospital to help me lose weight. So far it is working and the pounds are starting to come off and it definitely makes a huge difference.

When I was diagnosed, I was very sick at the start and I ended up in hospital for five days. I was discharged on the Saturday and going to America on the Monday. The doctors said I would be okay to travel, but I was very sick in the States and ended up back in hospital when I came home.

Eventually it was decided I needed insulin every day as well as my medications. This was very daunting as I didn't know what to expect or what it meant for my life.

I was shocked, but from the beginning I have always been proactive and done what I can to manage the condition the best I can. I have tried not to let it take over my life, but to be in control of it. If I can keep the weight off things are definitely better and I am healthier all round.

My wife Chris has always been very supportive of me and makes sure I check my blood sugars and eat the right things. Her brothers have Type 1 diabetes, so she has plenty of experience and knows what she is dealing with. The most important thing with the condition is early detection, so people do not become dependent on medications and insulin.

In Northern Ireland every day we are spending more than £1m on diabetes and this is too high.

There needs to be more awareness, so people know if they have any of the symptoms they can just go to their doctor or pharmacist for a quick test which will reveal if they have the condition or not. I am chair of the All-Party Group for Diabetes and I organise events at Stormont and campaign for more education and prevention, both of which are key. I believe there is a real tsunami of people in the province waiting to be diagnosed with the condition.

It is important that people realise, even if they have the condition, they can have a normal lifestyle. It's just about learning to manage it.

I try to stay as healthy as possible and swim when I can. I also have an exercise bike at home, that I should probably use more.

Keeping fit and healthy is vital. I am lucky, in that if I start to take a low, I get warning signs such as a tremor in my hand and my lips. At this stage I know I need to get something to prevent my levels from dropping any further."

‘A healthier diet reduced my blood sugar levels to normal’

Anne Taylor (73) lives in Lisburn with her husband Jim. The retired couple have four grown-up children Julie, Debbie, Peter and Barry. She says:

I had been healthy all my life and was a busy mum of four. I had my children just after I got married to my husband, Jim. My children Julie, Debbie, Peter and Barry are all close in age.

I was at home looking after them and I kept myself busy and active.

After they had grown up I started working in a family-run bakery, where I was manageress.

Things took a dramatic turn, though, 20 years ago, when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I had to have major surgery and it was a tough time, but thankfully all the cancer was removed and I didn't need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I recovered well from it.

My husband of 52 years and my children were all very supportive.

But back then we didn't really discuss cancer the way it would be talked about now.

We just dealt with the fact that I had a major operation and needed recovery.

That said, I was back at work eight months later. I just got on with my life and kept myself busy with the bakery and the family.

About 12 years ago, though, I started to feel tired all the time. I thought I was just overdoing things, but I was running to the loo a lot and drinking a lot of water.

I suspected I had diabetes as I was aware of the symptoms, so I went to my GP and asked to be tested. My blood sugar levels were through the roof at this stage and the doctors diagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

They said that sometimes this condition can happen after a trauma such as cancer. I was shocked at the time, but they put me on medication to keep my blood sugar levels regulated.

I started watching what I was eating and trying to keep to a healthier diet. I joined Unislim and eventually went to Weight Watchers.

I had great success there and got a lot of the weight off. I felt great and my blood sugar levels were almost normal.

The doctors were delighted with me.

Over the years, though, I have battled with my weight and put it on and taken it off.

It is a struggle, but I definitely feel so much better.

My diabetes is much better managed when my weight is under control and I am living a healthy lifestyle.

So I have promised my doctor I will go back to Weight Watchers in the New Year and try and look after myself better to keep the diabetes under control.

I have associated problems with my feet and struggle as they are sore and my legs ache in bed at night. Diabetes is a condition you can live with - when you make some adjustments to your lifestyle.

I would encourage anyone who has any of those symptoms such as being tired, running to the toilet and then drinking a lot of fluid to replace it, to go and get themselves checked out.

It is a very simple test and it could change your life, as early detection makes all the difference."

Shock figures on numbers living with diabetes

  • Prevalence of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in the Northern Ireland population is now over 4%. There are also an estimated 12,000 people who have diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed
  • Diabetes is on the increase in Northern Ireland and around the world. The number of people who are now living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has increased by 33% in Northern Ireland during the last five years, compared to just 25% in England, 20% in Wales and 18% in Scotland
  • However, with adequate support and treatment, it is possible to lead a long and complication-free life with diabetes
  • Visit Diabetes_in_Northern_Ireland/

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