THE noT so swEET LifE

As if the dis­eAse it­self isn’t bAd enough, there’s never A short­Age of mis­in­for­mA­tion And mis­con­cep­tions About di­A­betes

DA MAN - - Health -

“One par­tic­u­lar pOint needs tO be em­pha­sized: say­ing that ex­ces­sive sugar in­take causes di­a­betes Of any kind is in­cOr­rect”

For a dis­ease as well-known and as talked-about as di­a­betes, there is sur­pris­ingly a lot that we—as in med­i­cal sci­ence—still don’t know about. But since it is ba­si­cally a peren­nial hot topic, there is a lot of things about di­a­betes that the av­er­age per­son might mis­un­der­stand. Fur­ther com­pound­ing the prob­lem is the sim­ple fact that there are a lot of life­style risk fac­tors in­volved.

Now, di­a­betes is of­ten called “the big­gest epi­demic in hu­man his­tory.” Re­gard­less of whether that as­sess­ment is true or not, there’s no deny­ing that the dis­ease is wide­spread, and its im­pact—on in­di­vid­ual suf­fer­ers, their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies and friends as well as so­ci­ety as a whole—can be im­mense. As al­ways, how­ever, the key to com­bat­ing a dis­ease—whether it’s on a per­sonal level or in sup­port of loved ones bat­tling with it—starts with knowl­edge. So, here are some of the most im­por­tant points about di­a­betes.


What causes di­a­betes? Far too of­ten, the dis­ease is at­trib­uted to too much sugar in one’s diet. While that’s not en­tirely wrong—and we’ll get back to that—it’s not the whole pic­ture. When we eat food, our body breaks it down into use­ful com­po­nents, in­clud­ing glu­cose, which is a form of sugar that our cells need for fuel. For glu­cose to reach our cells, it needs to be guided by in­sulin.

When the glu­cose lev­els in our blood rises— say, af­ter a meal—our pan­creas will pro­duce the ideal amount of in­sulin to es­cort the glu­cose to where it is needed. Some­body suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes, how­ever, ei­ther pro­duces not enough in­sulin or can’t op­ti­mally make use of it. High glu­cose lev­els, also known as hy­per­glycemia, will then prompt the clas­si­cal symp­toms of di­a­betes: Ex­treme thirst (caused by the body pulling flu­ids into the blood­stream to di­lute it), hunger and weight loss (as cells don’t re­ceive the fuel—i.e., glu­cose—it needs) as well as ex­cess sugar in the per­son’s urine (due to the kid­neys be­ing un­able to cope).


Now we come to one of the big­gest is­sues sur­round­ing di­a­betes: the cause. And here we also meet the types of di­a­betes. Tech­ni­cally, there are four broad cat­e­gories; but one of them only af­fects preg­nant women and the other is a col­lec­tion of very spe­cific cases usu­ally la­beled “other types.” More of­ten than not, when some­body suffers from di­a­betes, it’s ei­ther type 1 or type 2. The first ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween these two ma­jor types is that type 1 means that the body can­not pro­duce in­sulin while type 2 means that the body is re­sis­tant—or not suf­fi­ciently sen­si­tive—to in­sulin.

The on­set of type 1 di­a­betes is also quite sud­den and hap­pens mostly in chil­dren. This type of di­a­betes is usu­ally in­her­ited, with en­vi­ron­men­tal or life­style fac­tors such as diet be­com­ing the trig­ger. There is, how­ever, plenty of un­known (for the time be­ing) fac­tors at play. Con­versely, type 2 di­a­betes af­fects mostly adults and hap­pens grad­u­ally. Ge­net­ics also play a part here, but there are more life­style risk fac­tors in­clud­ing ex­cess body fat, lack of ex­er­cise, di­etary habits and stress.

An­other im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two is that type 2 di­a­betes can be pre­vented through phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and a healthy diet.

Be­fore we move on, one par­tic­u­lar point needs to be em­pha­sized: Say­ing that ex­ces­sive sugar in­take causes di­a­betes of any kind is in­cor­rect. Ex­ces­sive caloric in­take—from any source, but, yes, in­clud­ing sugar—con­trib­utes to weight gain, and ex­ces­sive weight gain con­trib­utes to the risk of type 2 di­a­betes. And type 1 di­a­betes is, once again, mostly a mat­ter of ge­net­ics.


A healthy diet for some­body suf­fer­ing from di­a­betes type 2 is more or less the same as a healthy diet for peo­ple in gen­eral: Low in sat­u­rated fats, lean protein, non-starchy veg­eta­bles, fruit along with mod­er­ate salt and sugar con­tent.

Spe­cial care should be taken, how­ever, for fruit. While un­doubt­edly a good source of fiber, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, fruit also con­tains high lev­els of car­bo­hy­drates, which can, in turn, raise blood glu­cose lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly. This is also why there are more and more health pro­fes­sion­als ad­vis­ing against fruit-heavy di­ets, juice cleanses and the likes. It is all about mod­er­a­tion.


One fi­nal mis­con­cep­tion that we’ll try to ad­dress here is the per­cep­tion that hav­ing to take in­sulin is a sign of fail­ure—ei­ther in pre­vent­ing di­a­betes or keep­ing the dis­ease un­der con­trol. Re­mem­ber: Type 2 di­a­betes is a pro­gres­sive dis­ease. In many cases, peo­ple who have been di­ag­nosed with type 2 di­a­betes are able to main­tain healthy blood glu­cose lev­els through ex­er­cise, for­mu­lat­ing—and stick­ing to—a healthy meal plan along with oral med­i­ca­tion. Over time, how­ever, their bod­ies lose what lit­tle in­sulin pro­duc­tion abil­i­ties they have. At that point, in­sulin in­jec­tions must be used to man­age the dis­ease. Ob­vi­ously, this is also the only way to deal with type 1 di­a­betes.

And for sure, di­a­betes can be dealt with. It just takes a healthy un­der­stand­ing of the con­di­tion along with the dis­ci­pline to fol­low through on ways to man­age it.

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