In the news this week there were two main stories on diabetes. First up was the news that rates of diabetes have doubled since the 1980’s. The big question is, why have rates of diabetes increased so much? Is the rise mostly in Type 2 Diabetes or has Type 1 Diabetes also increased?
The other big story is the news that some people have managed to “lose” diabetes with a strict diet and exercise plan. Although what is meant by “lose” needs to be covered here. The main causes seem to be due simply to the rates of obesity. There does not appear to be any evidences that people are becoming more likely to develop the disease, it is just that poor diet and obesity are the major triggers for developing symptoms of diabetes.
However, a recent study has shown that healthy people are not immune to this rise in prevalence of diabetes. Over the last 30 years cases of high blood pressure and high cholesterol rates have fallen in many places, but diabetes rates have still risen. People seem to be following some lifestyle advice to reduce fat and salt, but ignore other equally important lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating a healthy diet.
Diabetes Is Hard to Prevent and Treat
Diabetes is very hard to prevent or treat. The root causes are not known, also Type 2 Diabetes appears to be genetic, at least there is often a family history of diabetes. There is no cure for diabetes, only treatment.
The treatment is expensive with many people requiring daily drugs for the rest of their lives, plus the additional costs of the support network to deal with the many related issues of diabetes. It is estimated that around 25% of cases of Type 2 diabetes are still not diagnosed.
The longer a person suffers diabetes the more damage that takes place. Over time nerve damage and damage to blood vessels leads to heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, eye damage and other problems.
Lose Weight and Get Fit
There are 2 factors which definitely reduce the chances of a person developing the symptoms of diabetes, and that is to lose weight and get fit. This leads us to the other news story this week, which is the news that some diabetes patients who were put on a very strict and calorie controlled diet managed to reverse their condition to the point that some people are saying that they were cure of diabetes.
The study was reported in the journal Diabetologia. People consuming just 600 calories a day managed to reduce pre-breakfast blood sugar levels to normal. In reality these people were not actually cured as returning to a poor diet and gain weight again can lead to the symptoms and the condition returning. However, researchers feel that for some people it is indeed possible to permanently reverse diabetes.
“It carries major implications for information to be given tonewly diagnosed patients, who should know that theyhave a potentially reversible condition and not one that is inevitably progressive”. Lim et al, 2011.
To understand this it is important to understand a little more about diabetes.
What Is Diabetes?
The simplest explanation of diabetes is that it is the inability of the body to use sugar for energy. We can digest sugar (carbohydrates) protein and fats for energy, however, the most readily form of energy is from sugar. Also, our brains require sugar for energy. With diabetes we can no longer use the sugar from food as energy, or not use it efficiently. There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is when the human body stops producing insulin. Insulin is the hormone which allows blood sugar (glucose) to be transferred from the blood to the cells (liver, muscles etc). People with Type 1 Diabetes must have regular insulin injections to allow them to take up sugar for energy. If they do not, then they will burn up their body fat and muscle tissue and literally waste away.
Before insulin was discovered type 1 diabetes always resulted in death shortly after the disease struck. Type 2 Diabetes is more complex as insulin is still produced, but either not enough insulin is produced to transport all the sugar to the cells, or there is a problem, a resistance, to insulin on the body. People with type 2 diabetes can therefore feel well for a long time before symptoms appear. They may lack energy, but will make up for this by eating more. Some may be more lethargic, but they will just be less active than normal.
Of course, this lack of energy leads to weight gain and associated health problems, and this can make the condition worse. One way to manage type 2 diabetes is to drastically reduce the amount of sugar you consume. Excess sugar in the blood is the main problem as this is what causes the long term nerve and blood vessel damage. If you can manage sugar levels through diet then this can help a great deal, although it is worth remembering that sugar is still needed for healthy body function.
Cutting sugar out is not an option for those with Type 1 Diabetes as they need insulin to take up sugar. Without insulin they will burn fat and muscle which will still raise blood glucose levels.
The main issue with type 2 diabetes seems still to be lack of exercise and weight gain. People who maintain healthy lifestyles which involves regular exercise, a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are less likely to ever develop the disease.
This is another good reason to slim down your waist, as a large waist is a strong indicator of poor health. BMI (body mass index) is often used to determine if someone is an unhealthy weight or not, but waist circumference is also an indicator and people with stomach fat seem to be more likely to develop diabetes.
Diabetes UK funded the recent research and stated that they are aware that such a low calorie diet is not an easy option and also requires careful monitoring to ensure that the patient is receiving adequate nutrition for long term good health. Also strict calorie monitoring is vital as many people massively underestimate how much they eat each day.
“Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol” By E. L. Lim, K. G. Hollingsworth, B. S. Aribisala, M. J. Chen, J. C. Mathers, R. Taylor. DiabetologiaDOI 10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7. PDF: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21656330