Diabetes (“sugar”) is in the news again, but it isn’t “good” news. There are 60 million people living in the UK (I’d probably say ‘surviving’ in the UK is more accurate) and 2.1 million of these have been diagnosed as Diabetic, of which 1.8 million had the Maturity Onset form of the condition. Official estimation from the UK would also suggest there were another 1 million walking around with Mature Onset Diabetes that did not even know they had it. That’s a worry. Not for me, but for them.
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!)
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.
Insulin is 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.
How does Diabetes cause such diverse symptoms? Large blood vessels may be damaged by atherosclerosis, which is a major cause of coronary artery disease and stroke. Other long-term complications result from damage to the small blood vessels throughout the body. Damage to blood vessels in the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye causes the visual impairment (diabetic retinopathy). Diabetes also increases the risk of developing cataracts.
If diabetes affects blood vessels that supply nerves, it may cause nerve damage. There may be a gradual loss of sensation, starting with the hands and feet and sometimes gradually extending up the limbs. Loss of feeling, combined with poor circulation, makes the feet and legs more susceptible to ulcers and gangrene. The nerve and blood vessel damage may also produce impotence in men (which Vitamin V may not be able to fix).
Damage to small blood vessels in the kidneys may also lead to further complications. Damage to the nerves controlling the body’s internal functions (autonomic neuropathy) can lead to problems with low blood pressure on standing (postural hypotension) or disturbance of the GI tract (vomiting or diarrhea) and increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.
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!