The Skinny On Diabetes
This topic is so overwhelming, so important and so current that it’s really difficult to determine where to begin. Let’s start with the statistics to show the significance of this condition.
Currently, there are 2 million diabetics in Canada. That is about 6% of the population. It is estimated that another 4% of the Canadian population has glucose intolerance, just one step away from full-blown diabetes. It is estimated that 20% of diabetics and individuals with glucose intolerance are undiagnosed, bringing the total number to 12% of the population —which is about 4.2 million people.
The last record of Canadian deaths due to complications from diabetes was recorded in 2004. This number was 5400 deaths in one year, which equates to 15 deaths a day. This number has most likely doubled since 2004, bringing the death toll to 30 deaths per day in 2014.
Globally, there are 350 million diabetics. This number is expected to increase to 500 million by 2030. Another 280 million have glucose intolerance and this number is expected to increase to 400 million by 2030. That brings the number to close to 1 billion in the next 15 years.
In 2011 — in just one year— there were 4.6 million diabetes related deaths worldwide. The number of Ebola-related deaths in Africa during this year’s epidemic is 4012, only 10 of them travel-related. Yet every day, we hear about Ebola on the news — but where is diabetes? Shouldn’t we be talking more about diabetes? Since it causes a 1000 times more deaths globally each year.
Grimness aside, what is diabetes, how can we treat it —and most importantly— prevent it?
DIABETES: THE SCIENCE
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood and is caused by our immune cells attacking the pancreas. This is a type of autoimmune reaction where our own immune system mistakenly thinks that our pancreas is a foreign organ and attacks it. The most recent theory is that this occurs mainly due to chronic inflammation, which is due to poor diet, chemicals and pesticides in food and air, lack of exercise and lack of direct contact with the surface of our planet (I will talk more about this later). The pancreas is the organ responsible for the release of insulin, the main hormone responsible for blood sugar (i.e., carbohydrate) control.
Basically, insulin stimulates the transfer of sugar from the blood (initially from the food we eat) to tissues such as muscle, brain, fat, and the liver. In these organs, the sugar is either used for energy, is stored as long chains of sugar molecules or is converted to protein or fat (mainly fat). Without the pancreas and thus without insulin, the sugar, (more specifically glucose), lingers in our blood at higher than acceptable levels.
Although glucose is the most important energy molecule derived from our diet, too much of it in our blood is actually very toxic. It causes direct damage to small blood vessels; namely the little arteries and capillaries. When this damage occurs, it attracts immune white blood cells which initiate an inflammatory reaction. As a consequence, more damage is done. This attracts more immune cells, platelets (coagulation structures in blood), cholesterol and fat. When they all come together, so-called atherosclerotic plaques form on the inner wall of these blood vessels. These plaques, when large enough, compromise blood flow to vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, our eyes, and peripheral nerves. The consequences are all the major complications of diabetes: heart attacks, strokes, blindness, peripheral vascular disease leading to leg pains and leg ulcers, and lack of sensation from damaged nerves in the legs and feet —which in turn lead to pressure ulcers. Because of the lack of blood circulation, these ulcers are incredibly difficult to treat.
Type 2 diabetes has exactly the same outcome in terms of health complications. The difference is that it is not the pancreas that is destroyed by the immune cells, but rather the insulin that is normally secreted by the pancreas has a diminished effect on the organs that need to absorb glucose for their needs. This is called insulin resistance and it is due to a decreased number of insulin receptors on cells that normally absorb glucose.
There are many theories as to why this happens, but most likely culprits are obesity, junk food, lack of exercise and a diet (including drinks) high in simple carbohydrates (especially sugar). Stress and family history (i.e., genetics) also contribute, but not nearly as much as diet, obesity and lack of exercise. Sitting on the couch all day eating chips, pizza, fries, and washing it down with soda is what causes type 2 diabetes. It also used to be a disease of the middle aged and elderly individuals, but due to the changing lifestyle of our youth, it is becoming an epidemic among children as well.
PREVENTION & TREATMENT
So what can be done to prevent this devastating disease? First of all, abandon soft drinks and most fruit juices. They are packed with sugar. Take a look at the label. Most fruit juices have about 40 grams of sugar per glass. If you put that much sugar on a table you will have a small mountain. Secondly, limit simple carbs in your diet. These are French fries, white buns, white bread, white rice, perogies and potatoes. Replace them with whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice.
Just as important is regular cardiovascular exercise. 20 minutes every other day is good enough. You want to take it to the level where you are breathing heavily and you break a sweat for at least 10 minutes.
Maintain optimal body weight. This means a body mass index between 19 and 26. The formula is BMI = kg/m2 where kg is a person’s weight in kilograms and m2 is their height in meters squared. For example, if you weigh 70 kg and your height is 1.5 meters, your body mass index is 70 divided by 1.5 x 1.5 which is 70 divided by 2.25, which equals 31 (i.e., way too high).
Another thing to keep in mind is to limit stress and especially inflammation. Inflammation can be curtailed by antioxidants in food and via supplements. Some great examples are curcumin, green tea, pomegranate, and green leafy vegetables.
Recently, an absolutely mind-blowing discovery has shown that “grounding” or “earthing” reduces inflammation substantially by providing the body with electrons from mother earth. These electrons then neutralize free radicals, (they have one electron instead of two and thus are electron “hungry”), which are the main culprits of chronic inflammation. As a doctor, I was skeptical when I first heard about this, but after reading the book: Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! by Clinton Ober,I am totally convinced. Check out the book and grounding methods online. I will write a more extensive article on this subject soon, so stay tuned.
My final point about diabetes is that if you do not prevent diabetes, (especially type 2 diabetes), you are destined to a life of prescription medications (most of which have unpleasant side effects) and eventually insulin injections (not to mention the constant pricking with a needle to check your blood glucose level). Even with the most regulated and ideal system of insulin injections, you are still fated to develop the complication of insulin sooner or later. Even with perfect treatment, you are postponing the inevitable.
I say this not to scare you, but to emphasize the importance of preventing this dreadful disease and the most significant epidemic of the 21st century.
See you next time.