The Diabetes Epidemic
Written by: Dr. L. Lee Coyne.
At the 62nd Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in San Francisco last year, there were over 7,000 physicians and health care professionals from around the world attending. This number merely accentuates the significance of this disease. It is now considered to be an epidemic with over 60,000 new case identified in Canada alone each year. That translates into the discovery of a new diabetic in Canada every eight minutes. Just five to six years ago the figure was one every 23 minutes. That is a three fold increase in five to six years. This is consistent with the recent disclosure by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest that annual sugar consumption has risen by more than thirty percent since 1983 and now stands at 160 pounds (73 kg) per person per year.
Diabetes defined: Diabetes Mellitus (commonly known as “sugar diabetes”) occurs in two forms.
Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin in response to increases in blood glucose (sugar) levels. This condition accounts for less than ten percent of diagnosed diabetics. The reasons for the pancreas failing can range from genetic abnormalities, to autoimmune diseases to viral or bacterial infections. Whatever the reason, the pancreas doesn’t work very well.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas still makes adequate insulin but the body cells become resistant to the insulin – known as insulin resistance. Some even develop an oversensitive pancreas which over produces insulin, further promoting the resistance. Over ninety percent of diabetics fall into this category. Although some research has pointed at genetics as the underlying cause, most health professionals recognize it as a lifestyle issue. In other words inadequate exercise, over-consumption of refined carbohydrates and the resulting weight gain associated with these shortcomings.
At one time, type 2 diabetes was known as “Adult Onset Diabetes” because it rarely occurred in anyone under the age of forty-five. However, recent developments have changed that because of the number of children diagnosed with the condition. There are reports of five year old children diagnosed with the condition. Again, this is consistent with the poor exercise habits and poor nutritional choices and the well recognized childhood obesity epidemic.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in three to four percent of pregnancies. The causes tend to be similar to type 2 conditions but in most cases the condition is temporary but still requires attention while the blood sugar is elevated.
Consequences: If the insulin doesn’t remove the sugar from the blood, the consequences can be devastating. They range from blindness, to kidney failure, to gangrene and subsequent amputations to liver and other organ breakdown. Insulin is the “Good-guy / bad-guy”. You die without it but chronically elevated levels create another barrage of problems. These problems include obesity (insulin is the storage hormone and you can’t burn fat while blood insulin levels are elevated), high tri-glycerides, high cholesterol, many inflammatory conditions and heart disease.
The current diabetes epidemic is obviously type 2 diabetes and the primary cause of type 2 diabetes is the developed insulin resistance. This is also known as the “Metabolic Syndrome” or “Syndrome X”.
Control and Prevention
Elevated blood sugar occurs when we eat carbohydrates and the presence of this sugar triggers the pancreas to produce and release insulin into the blood and thus provide a transport system for the sugar to enter the cells. If the cells have become insulin resistant then the blood sugar remains elevated and the pancreas continues to release insulin in an attempt to complete the job. This chronically elevated insulin is the main reason we store sugars as fat, and find ourselves frequently hungry because elevated insulin will not allow us to mobilize the stored fat to provide our ongoing demand for energy.
Therefore the primary practice of control and prevention is that of controlling the balance and portion sizes of our meals. This means eating enough protein in every meal and understanding the blood sugar consequences of carbohydrates. Several studies reported in the scientific literature in recent years have demonstrated the value of a “protein adequate”, reduced carbohydrate and lower fat eating plan as a wise strategy to control blood sugar and the resulting insulin levels. This approach to a new lifestyle rather than a therapeutic diet means that forty percent of calories come from low glycemic carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit and whole grains all high in fibre), thirty percent come from high quality protein and thirty percent come from good fat choices. The side benefits of this style of eating include responsible weight loss, control of inflammatory conditions and improve lipid profiles that means reduced risk of heart disease.
All prevention and rehabilitation programs for diabetes include a responsible exercise program because exercise lowers blood sugar and helps to control insulin levels.
This new life saving lifestyle will require you to retrain your eyes and hands when it comes to food selection and you will need to understand food labels. This should only take a month of paying attention to details. You will also want to educate yourself on the value of selected responsible nutritional supplementation to help you optimize your nutritional approach. That is a small price to pay for a healthier and longer life.
L. Lee Coyne