Diabetes – a disease you don’t want

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Some very disquieting news out of Australia last week. About 300,000 of the one million people living in western Sydney are conservatively estimated to have diabetes or be at high risk, with more than half the population overweight.

Health advocates in Australia are predicting if the population continues to consume too many calories and convert to diabetes, they will have to build factories to cut off people’s toes, feet and limbs and help them when they go blind.

Diabetes costs Australia at least $14.6 billion annually, a figure expected to blow out to $30 billion by 2025.

To counteract this, proposals have been put forward about taxing sugary drinks, looking at what is in school canteens and about the distribution and availability of fresh foods and fast foods, and urban design generally.

Before we go much further, just exactly what is Diabetes? Quite simply, it is an inability of the body to handle glucose correctly. Insulin is produced by the body to keep the glucose system in balance and if the insulin production is lacking, this is called Type 1 Diabetes. With Mature Onset Diabetes (also called Type 2, or Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) the cells become less responsive to insulin, and there may be a reduction in insulin levels as well.

So who gets it? Are you more than 40 years of age? Are you overweight? Do you have a blood relative who has Diabetes? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you may have Mature Onset Diabetes. If you answered “yes” to all three, then it is pounds to peanuts that you do have it. (If you come from Holland, you can make that guilders to gooseberries!)

Insulin is the key and necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells.

When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause many problems. First off, your cells may be starved for energy, so you begin to feel tired. Secondly, over time you may develop heart disease (cardiovascular disease), blindness (retinopathy), nerve damage (neuropathy), and kidney damage (nephropathy).

So how do you know if you have developed (or are developing) Mature Onset Diabetes? The main symptoms to look for include a lack of energy, hunger (which comes from the fact that the cells are ‘starving’), excessive passing of urine combined with thirst and a dry mouth, insufficient sleep because of the need to pass urine at night (though this may be due to prostate enlargement in males) and blurred vision (again not to be confused with reading difficulties – short arms – which is called Presbyopia and occurs after 40 years of age), slow healing of minor cuts and sores.

Authorities say that preventing diabetes would require the same level of co-ordination and bipartisanship as tobacco control, which involved targeted awareness campaigns, taxation measures and regulated advertising.

Diet is considered to play a more important role in weight loss than exercise, though people who regularly exercise are more likely to maintain their weight loss as it improves their metabolism.

University of Sydney metabolic health Professor Stephen Colagiuri said the priority should be preventing people at high risk of diabetes from developing the disease, doing something at a population level to encourage healthier eating and more physical activity and making a more concerted effort to prevent pregnant women from developing gestational diabetes.

So if you think you might have it, or are a likely candidate, what next. A simple trip to your doctor and some inexpensive blood and urine tests will confirm or deny.

In the initial stages, dietary measures may be sufficient to control this condition, but oral medication and sometimes insulin injections become necessary as it progresses. But find out if you have it first!

It used to be that obesity in Thailand was very rare, but unfortunately no longer. Overweight Thais are catching up to the overweight Westerners.

Step on your bathroom scales and do something about it before you develop Diabetes!