Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition whereby blood sugar – the main type of sugar you get from food – is constantly at risk of becoming too high. Ordinarily, the hormone insulin is tasked with regulating blood sugar but if you have type 2 diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the insulin it does produce is not absorbed by the cells. Over time, high blood sugar levels can unleash a wave of destruction on the body and these destructive effects can double up as the first symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Some of the most acute effects come under the category of autonomic neuropathy – damage to nerves that control your internal organs.
The symptoms of autonomic neuropathy depend on which of your body’s functions are affected.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), damage to the nerves of your digestive system can cause faecal incontinence.
Faecal incontinence, also called accidental bowel leakage, is the accidental passing of solid or liquid stools from your anus.
You may have a strong urge to have a bowel movement and not be able to control it or you may have bowel leakage and not know it.
Other digestive warning signs of high blood sugar damage include:
- Bloating, fullness, and nausea
- Diarrhoea, especially at night
- Diarrhoea alternating with constipation
- Problems swallowing
Autonomic neuropathy may also cause gastroparesis – a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine, warns the NIDDK.
How to lower blood sugar
To offset the harmful effects of high blood sugar, it is vital that you lower blood sugar levels to a healthy range.
There are key components of blood sugar control – committing to a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.
There is technically nothing you cannot eat but you have to limit certain carbohydrates because they can cause blood sugar spikes.
Simple carbs are the worst culprits because, as Harvard Health explains, they are “easily and quickly utilised for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure, often leading to a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion from the pancreas”.
Complex carbs, on other hand, are a safer bet for blood sugar management.
Harvard Health explains: “Many complex carbohydrate foods contain fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they take longer to digest – which means they have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly.”
The glycaemic index (GI) can help you to distinguish between the two carbs.
The GI is a rating system for foods containing carbs. It shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar level when that food is eaten on its own.
As the NHS explains, carb foods that are broken down quickly by your body and cause a rapid increase in blood glucose have a high GI rating.
High GI foods include:
- Sugar and sugary foods
- Sugary soft drinks
- White bread
- White rice.
Low or medium GI foods are broken down more slowly and cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels over time, explains the NHS.
- Some fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain foods, such as porridge oats.
In addition, engaging in 2.5 hours of physical activity a week can help to lower blood sugar, adds the NHS.