A healthy diet, regular exercise, and culturally sensitive care may be helpful in preventing and controlling diabetes, say researchers.
The findings are based on recent reviews that suggest that a healthy diet and exercise can help prevent diabetes, and that patients from ethnic minorities do better with diabetes education that takes their language and culture into account.
Dr. Didac Mauricio, a researcher from the Hospital Universitari Arnau de Vilanova in Spain, said that the data from a review of eight studies showed that lower fat and higher fibre diets, combined with moderate weekly exercise, reduced the relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 37 per cent among the 2,241 study participants who had received the diet and exercise prescription.
The researcher said that people who participated in the studies also lost weight, reduced their waist circumference, and improved their blood pressure - all key factors related to the risk of developing diabetes.
Mauricio, however, said that the participants had substantial help from dieticians and exercise physiologists along the way, and because the changes in diet and exercise were monitored so carefully, "we do not presently know how these interventions perform outside a trial."
In another review by Lucie Nield of the University of Teesside and colleagues in England, diets rich in fruits and vegetables and lower in sugar were found to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes among the participants in one six-year study by 33 per cent.
Though the review appear in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library makes it clear that diet can stave off type 2 diabetes, Nield concedes that it is still unclear exactly what kind of diet to recommend to people who might be vulnerable to developing the disease.
"Despite the current situation we are facing with the diabetes epidemic, there are not enough long-term data available to come to any confident conclusions," she said.
She and her colleagues say that regular visits with dieticians - every three to six months during the studies - may also have played a significant role in getting people to stick with a healthy eating plan.
A third Cochrane review led by Dr. Yolanda Robles, an academic fellow at Cardiff University, focused on how the health of ethnic minority diabetes patients might improve if they were taught about the disease in their own language, "or by members of their community using health education materials that had been adapted to that community's cultural needs."
The researchers found that the "culturally appropriate" education had a short-term effect of lowering blood glucose (sugar) levels, but none of the interventions included in the review lasted more than a year.
Analysing 11 studies, the researchers found that combination education strategies seemed to have the greatest positive impact on the health of the 1,603 participants.
"However, it should be borne in mind that we still do not know the necessary dose of health education needed or the level of reinforcement of messages to ensure continued benefits. Longer term studies, with more patient-centered outcomes, are needed," Robles cautioned.