Diabetes is a disease that has become one of the main killers as a result of modern lifestyle habits. Afrikaans-speaking people call it “suikersiekte” as it involves the body’s inability to control glucose levels and produce insulin which is used to convert food into energy.
The two types of diabetes are medically divided into insulin dependent (auto-immune condition) and non-insulin dependent diabetes. Insulin dependent diabetics accounts for 5-10% of all diabetics who have to inject themselves as the pancreas cannot produce insulin. Type 1 diabetics have more severe symptoms and have more trouble controlling insulin levels throughout their lifetime. Most diabetics are non-insulin dependent and have to manage their diabetes through proper nutrition and exercise habits.
Type 2 diabetes affects 1.5 million South African citizens and occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to remove the excess sugar and carbohydrates from blood. Many more people are affected by insulin resistance which will become diabetes unless managed properly with a healthy diet and regular exercise. People over forty who are overweight, inactive and stressed are at risk. Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be managed and sometimes prevented.
Obesity affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men and excess weight puts strain on the organs of the body to maintain proper functioning (homeostasis). The vicious circle continues when increased body fat accumulates and secretes free fatty acids into the bloodstream and promotes insulin resistance. The body tries to compensate by pumping out higher amounts of insulin as insulin resistance increases and glucose tolerance worsens. Excess glucose leads to hyperglycemia which damages blood vessels and leads to worse side effects once diabetes is diagnosed. Symptoms include thirst, frequent urination, weakness and blurred vision.
Low blood glucose is hypoglycemia and is caused by eating too little carbohydrates or skipping meals. Hypoglycemia has a fast onset and needs to be treated quickly with fruit, sugar or carbohydrates.
Strangely, it is not only overweight people who develop diabetes. This disease affects people with poor eating and exercise habits or it could just be hereditary. Halle Berry, petite Hollywood star, tries to control her diabetes problem by eating five small meals and exercising daily. Eating regular low-calorie nutritional meals ensures the stabilization of blood sugar, allowing one to lead a normal life whether it be surviving a day at the office or being a Bond Girl.
There are various medical and dietary studies undertaken to help to manage the increasing number of people who develop diabetes. Rimonabant is a trial drug that has been developed to target diabetes and obesity. One in every seven US dollars is used to fight diabetes. Oral medications (hypoglycemic agents) are taken to stimulate the pancreas to make more insulin to lower blood glucose.
Diabetes has terrible side effects such as retinopathy (eye problems), angiopathy (cardiovascular system problems such as ineffective circulation), neuropathy (nerve problems) and nephropathy (kidney problems). Blindness, kidney failure, ulcers, gangrene and strokes may result from mismanaged diabetes.
There has been much research into insulin markers, diets, glucose monitoring systems and exercise. Each patient may have a different reaction to exercise, but activity has been shown to lower blood glucose levels, reduce risk factors and stabilize HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin which refers to long-term blood glucose. An exerciser’s ability to participate in physical activity is directly related to the levels of blood sugar.
Since 2006 the term pre-diabetes has become a medical diagnosis when a person is at risk of developing diabetes. Using a blood glucose meter to measure the effects of food, stress and activity on blood glucose levels and carb counting involves matching carbohydrate intake to insulin.
Diabetes is one the of the lifestyle diseases that affects most families. There is no cure for this disease, but it can be managed by identifying trends in blood glucose patters, exercising and responsible eating.