What's next for diabetes?

written by Terry Robson

Senior Couple Walking In Summer Countryside

Credit:123RF

There is no doubt diabetes, specifically type-2 diabetes, is a product of our times. It’s an insidious and lethal disease that strikes at the very base of cellular functioning. Yet it is also eminently preventable and if we want to cope with the diabetes problem both as individuals and as a society, there are certain things that have emerged throughout this publication that we must do.

Pre-emptive strike at pre-diabetes

In the article on a traditional Chinese medicine approach to diabetes, it was pointed out that a Chinese medical practitioner would hope to treat the person with potential diabetes long before diabetes develops. This is typical of many traditional healing systems and now conventional scientific orthodox medicine is of the same mind when it comes to diabetes.

So pre-diabetes becomes the key battleground in combating the diabetes explosion

Scientific research shows that once overt fasting high blood sugar levels develop, pancreatic beta-cell function deteriorates progressively, so the aim is to prevent high blood sugar levels developing. Additionally, because deaths from type-2 diabetes arise from long-term complications, early detection and effective intervention would be expected to have enormous beneficial human, social, medical and economic impact. Therefore, orthodox medicine is keen to initiate treatment early with interventions that reverse defects in the pre-diabetic stage.

So pre-diabetes becomes the key battleground in combating the diabetes explosion. A fasting blood glucose of anywhere between 5.5 and 6.9 (mmol/l) is regarded as pre-diabetic, but even at this level damage is being done so intervention is required, especially if you have a family history of diabetes.

All of this means you need to have a preventative strategy in mind.

Forewarned is fore-armed

The silent nature of high blood sugar is the big danger. By the time you’re experiencing outward symptoms, like frequent urination, unusual thirst, lethargy, blurred vision and high blood pressure, much damage can already be done. You can turn this around to a degree in some cases, but why wait until your house is collapsing before you get it checked for termites? Anyone over age 40, but really anyone living a modern lifestyle over age 20, needs to constantly stay in touch with their health status. Go to a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner or an Ayurvedic practitioner, or a naturopath or your general practitioner and ask for a health rundown. Whether it’s a check of your constitution or your blood, you need to see where you are travelling with your blood sugar control. If there are problems and you catch them early, there is plenty you can do to get things under control.

Be a loser

Losing weight makes you more sensitive to insulin so the first thing you need to do is lose weight, or get yourself into a healthy weight range. Statistically, the risk of diabetes soars as the kilos pile on. An increase in body mass index (BMI), the generally accepted measure of healthy weight for height, from 21 (healthy) to 35 (above 30 is obese) means you are 50 to 80 times more likely to develop type-2 diabetes.

In fact, weight loss should be an aim for governments as well as individuals. A generation of overweight children could be a diabetic generation in the making and we all have a responsibility to stop that happening.

Food choices

The nature of our food these days plays an important role in diabetes. If you are living on processed, pre-packaged food, you’re consuming food probably laden with sweeteners like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. To reduce your risk of diabetes you need to make smart food choices, but the wonderful reality is that those foods will be tasty and beneficial in myriad ways. Throughout this publication the virtues of a Mediterranean-style diet for diabetes prevention have been extolled. That means eating less packaged food and lots of organic fresh vegetables and fish, a little delightful fruit, some thirst-quenching water, a bit of tea and coffee, all drizzled with olive oil, topped with an occasional glass of red wine, and consumed in a leisurely mindful manner with family and friends. This is a way of eating that will keep diabetes at bay and bring you into contact with your life and your environment at the same time.

An action plan

The next part of your action plan to combat and prevent diabetes is … action. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for diabetes and inactivity is known to decrease your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Around 45 minutes of exercise per day, five days a week, will improve your sensitivity to insulin and provide a whole range of cardiovascular, muscular and mental benefits besides.

Supplements

As well as the many dietary and lifestyle modifications you can employ that are outlined throughout this publication, there are also lots of useful natural herbs and supplements. Pharmaceutical drugs do offer some assistance, but mostly with side effects and for a limited time. There are, however, many well-researched herbs and supplements that will help you avoid or cope with diabetes. These supplements are outlined extensively here, but health practitioners will be useful guides along your path.

Society — not just individuals

There is much you can do to prevent or manage your own diabetes, but the way forward with this condition needs more than individual action. Diabetes is spreading rapidly and while we have global surveillance networks for communicable diseases like the flu, there is no such network for diabetes. There is an urgent need for authorities to properly monitor the disease, but monitoring is one thing. The real question is what we do about diabetes as a society.

This is a way of eating that will keep diabetes at bay and bring you into contact with your life and your environment at the same time

On one level it may seem obvious; we need to improve our food quality and stop sweetening and fattening everything. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done. Take, for instance, Denmark, which imposed a “fat tax” of 16 kroner per kilogram on saturated fat in a product. After just one year the Danish government dumped the tax as well as a planned tax on sugar. It said it had listened to retailers who complained that Danes simply went to Sweden and Germany for products, where prices were lower. Also, in November 2012, voters in two small cities in California rejected a ballot to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks, with industry groups spending millions to defeat the measure. In September 2012, New York City passed a law to ban extra-large-size sugar drinks, but a sugar tax failed to pass the legislature.

It will take strong political will to overcome those who have a vested interest in the status quo when it comes to food, but ultimately politicians listen to people. There is a lot you can do to change the food, exercise and lifestyle choices that increase your chances of developing diabetes. If you make those changes and see the benefits that come from them, others around you will see them too. As they see you flourish, they may make the same choices, and when enough people make those choices, politicians will have to take notice. That will be when we have turned the tide on diabetes.


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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.