By Pete Scales M.Ag, BSc EP
Diabetes – the unpleasant neighbor in the South Asian community
A sobering statistic – upwards of 20% of the adult South Asian population of BC have received a diagnosis of diabetes vs around 7 % of the Caucasian population. There are many out there attempting to explain this very distinctive difference. They range from: perhaps the South Asian population is more predisposed to diabetes and by association, heart disease all the way to the silly idea that diabetes stems from their love of butter and sweets. Or maybe it is as simple as a large group of people used to lots of activity and restricted access to calorie-rich diets finding these conditions reversed when they live in North America.
Whatever it is causing the high rates of diabetes in this particular population begs addressing the observation that this disparity between populations, is narrowing and diabetes is not just the bad neighbor in the South Asian community but all over the continent. In particular, diabetes (and its good friend, obesity) is showing up in younger and younger people reaching epidemic proportions in our high schools. So, is there anything to be done to reverse the diabetic tide? Unfortunately, the answer is yes and no. Let me explain.
Diabetes, as a general topic, is about how the human body uses insulin to process glucose or sugar as our most important energy source. At present, we know of the existence of two forms of diabetes. The first, Type I is best described as an autoimmune disease where the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type I Diabetes usually shows its ugly head in childhood and in order for sufferers to survive into adulthood and then go on to lead productive lives, must take insulin injections throughout the day. The frequency of insulin injections is determined by the level of activity and, the types and quantity of food taken in. So far, Type I has proven to be irreversible but thanks to science, certainly not a death sentence.
On the other hand, Type II Diabetes, usually seen in adulthood and described as an insulin resistance issue, appears to be somewhat reversible. This condition seems directly related to what and how much we feed ourselves. Usually treated with medications with names such as Metformin, Glyburide etc. the idea is to help the insulin we do produce to work more efficiently and prepare cell walls to better absorb glucose. But, as a group, North Americans are taking in much more sugar, along with everything else, exercising way less and in general, getting bigger waistlines.
Now, it has got to the point that the panaceas is working overtime and not able to keep up insulin production. The result, an ever-widening cycle of requirements for medication, associated increases in cardiac and kidney diseases, more medications and on and on. But at least with Type II, numerous science-based studies show that eating less, exercising more and actually thinking about what we consume leads to better health and guess what, reduced requirements for many of the medications with strange sounding names. So yes, Type II diabetes can in many cases be reversed. But, the message needs to get out if the tide is going to be turned and we make diabetes, the bad neighbor, leave us all, alone.
So I said earlier that we know of two main types of diabetes. Well, this number is likely, in the very near future, to climb to three. It looks like science is about to be able to describe Alzheimer’s disease as a brain-located form of diabetes.
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