Last month a very close acquaintance asked me to drive her for a first-time session with a gastro endocrinologist. It was the last in a long line of medical specialists that she had seen in the past few years. Because of type 2 diabetes she has received treatments for the following conditions:
Damage to her retina—she has lost one eye.
Damage to the kidneys—she only has 48% function and experiences serious water retention.
Damage to her nerves that control food digestion in the autonomic nervous system —she can eat very few foods and experiences chronic diarrhea.
Damage to her heart—she has atherosclerosis and has had a heart attack and received quadruple by-pass surgery.
Damage to the nerves and vascular system of her legs—she has gangrene and may lose her toes if not her feet.
I have known this fantastic lady for fifty years. Even with her many damaged bodily functions, she is mentally alert as ever. What a shame she has ignored the well known life-style causes that lead to and aggravate diabetes. As a registered nurse, she was well aware of the risks of high cholesterol, exercise avoidance, and an unhealthy diet.
We are starting to understand much more about the killing disease. Type 2 diabetes begins to develop as long as 13 years before diagnosis according to researchers reporting in Lancet, June 8, 2009. Authors of the study, “suggest that measures to stave off the disease include exercising more and eating healthier food. Practicing these habits might be more effective before this unstable period.” the authors conclude. Red wine in moderation also appears to have beneficial effects on HDL levels. Although some disagree, the authors recommended that beef consumption be limited to 3 oz. per day.
As for the cause of type 2 diabetes, Robert J Ferry, Jr. MD, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, explains that Diabetes mellitus is a set of related diseases in which the body cannot regulate the amount of sugar (specifically, glucose) in the blood. Says Ferry,”Glucose in the blood gives you energy to perform daily activities, walk briskly, run for a bus, ride your bike, take an aerobic exercise class, and perform your day-to-day chores.”
Other important points include:
In a healthy person, the blood glucose level is regulated by several hormones, including insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, a small organ between the stomach and liver. The pancreas secretes other important enzymes that help to digest food.
Insulin allows glucose to move from the blood into liver, muscle, and fat cells, where it is used for fuel.
People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or cannot use insulin properly (type 2 diabetes), or both (which occurs with several forms of diabetes.
In diabetes, glucose in the blood cannot move into cells, so it stays in the blood. This not only harms the cells that need the glucose for fuel, but also harms certain organs and tissues exposed to the high glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes is usually controlled with diet, weight loss, exercise, and oral medications. Pre-diabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and of heart disease or stroke. Pre-diabetes can typically be reversed without insulin or medication by losing a modest amount of weight and increasing your physical activity. This weight loss can prevent, or at least delay, the onset of type 2 diabetes.
There are alarming and somewhat ignored statistics about diabetes. About 17 million Americans, 6.2% of adults in North America, are believed to have diabetes. About one third of diabetic adults do not know they have diabetes. About 1 million new cases occur each year, and diabetes is the direct or indirect cause of at least 200,000 deaths each year.
What is worse, the incidence of diabetes is increasing rapidly. This increase is due to many factors, but the most significant are the increasing incidence of obesity and the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles.
The causes of adult diabetes are well known: high blood pressure, high blood triglyceride (fat) levels, high-fat diet, high alcohol intake, sedentary lifestyle, obesity or being overweight and genetics.
What should we walkers take away from this information? Same old excellent advice—follow a healthy diet so as to control blood sugar levels; do not smoke; and regularly exercise.
Like so many things, avoiding being a victim of diabetes and its horrible complication is in our hands, we must “police our behaviors.”