On November 15, 17,000 people are expected to take part in the Diabetes-Knowledge-Action ‘Walk for Life’ at Yas Marina Circuit. To help raise awareness of the disease, which remains frighteningly common in the UAE, What’s On asked a number of experts to share their knowledge.

For more information on the Walk for Life, visit the Facebook page.

Diabetes is caused when there is an increased presence of glucose in the blood stream. This happens when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or if it is unable to use the insulin effectively. Thus two forms of the condition exist:

Type 1 or insulin- dependent diabetes occurs primarily in children and young adults, but it can affect people of any age.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the condition, and accounts for at least 90 per cent of all cases of diabetes. It mostly affects people over the age of 40, although it can occur much earlier. This type of diabetes is caused by a sedentary lifestyle and improper diet.

If untreated, diabetes can lead to increased risk of heart disease and stroke, loss of vision, kidney failure and even nerve damage. There is no cure for diabetes, but by adopting a healthy diet, following an exercise routine and regularly monitoring your blood glucose levels, the condition can be easily controlled.

Dr Rita Nawar Tobias, our expert for the month, is an endocrinologist at The Weight Care Clinic in Dubai. For those (like us, before Google) who aren’t sure what endocrinologists do, they specialise in diagnosing and treating hormone-related disorders, particularly diabetes. Well, that clears it up a bit.

Is diabetes a big problem in the UAE? The UAE ranks as one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of the number of people suffering from diabetes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is estimated that more than 19 per cent of the population suffer from the condition.

Who is it affecting? There are two main risk categories for diabetes: those over 45 with a family history of diabetes and/or suffering from obesity and high blood pressure, and women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or who suffered from diabetes during pregnancy. The most predominant environmental factor causing type 2 diabetes in the UAE is the sedentary lifestyle, which causes obesity.

Why are women with PCOS in danger? PCOS can often cause weight gain, and unfortunately more than half of the women suffering from PCOS are overweight or obese with insulin resistance, which puts them at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

What are the symptoms? The most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes are increased thirst, hunger, fatigue, increased urination (especially at night), unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands, and sores that do not heal.

How is it diagnosed? Your doctor or specialist will do a series of blood glucose tests to diagnose diabetes or pre-diabetes.

What is pre-diabetes? Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have pre-diabetes – blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. People who suffer from pre-diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and may have some of the symptoms already. Recent research has shown that some long-term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already be occurring during pre-diabetes.

What dietary changes should we be implementing? If you are concerned about your weight or are worried about type 2 diabetes, you should be modifying the macronutrient composition in your diet – that is, the protein, fat and carbohydrates you consume.

Which foods should you stay away from to reduce the risk of developing diabetes? The key is to avoid fatty or unhealthy foods that might increase the risk of causing deterioration in pancreatic function, like bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, desserts, fizzy drinks, and juices.

Can a low GI diet be useful? There are several beneficial effects of low-GI (glycaemic index), high-fibre diets, including lower glucose and insulin responses after eating, and possibly reduced insulin resistance.

Are there any supplements that can help? Cinnamon and, more recently, caffeine have been shown to have beneficial effects on glucose metabolism. However there are no guidelines to recommend their consumption as a preventative tool against diabetes, and too much caffeine in itself can be detrimental to your health.

What about exercise? Exercising for 30 minutes, five days a week, is recommended in the prevention of obesity and type 2 diabetes. More recent studies have shown that interval training is more effective than continuous exercise with regards to glucose control and insulin sensitivity.

Are there any other lifestyle changes that can help prevent diabetes? Not getting the six to eight hours’ sleep your body needs can slow your metabolism and increase insulin resistance, so keeping yourself well rested is important. Learning to relax is also essential, because mental (as well as physical) stress can complicate diabetes, both by distracting you from taking proper care of yourself, and by directly affecting blood glucose.

Yoga can normalise blood-glucose levels by gently massaging and stimulating the internal organs responsible for the carbohydrate metabolism. Most of the diabetes yoga poses involve bending, which gently compresses the organs beneath the abdomen including the stomach, intestine, liver, and pancreas. This can kick-start the organ’s optimum functionality. Try the Paschimotsana pose (sit with your legs straight out in front of you and bend down, aiming for your head to reach your knees) to stimulate internal organs. The Vajarasan pose is easy and helps to energise and strengthen the body.

Also, bitter gourds are very low in calories but high in nutrients including iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C. They also contain insulin-like peptides, alkaloids and charantin, which act together to lower blood and urine sugar levels without increasing blood-insulin levels. You can take the juice of four bitter gourds every morning, add powdered seeds to food or boil pieces of fruit in water.

Jamun is a traditional medicine that helps control diabetes. The seeds contain a glucose called Jamboline, which checks the conversion of starch into sugar in cases of increased production of glucose.

This article first appeared in What’s On in November 2012