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Dr Duncan

Forget Diabetes Week - it's diabetes decade!

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The headlines in the papers recently have been full of the “threat” of so called illegal immigrants arriving by boat from Indonesia, and these headlines are often floridly illustrated with images of those poor souls who have been injured or perished when these un-safe boats have sunk.

But whilst we’re looking out there for things that threaten and frighten us, we often miss the even more devastating threats that are already here.  One of the huge threats to so many lives that can cause not only death but serious debility and deformity, is diabetes. There are many threats that can cause damage to our communities but Diabetes has to be the number one threat to the West Australian community for the next ten years at least. And we need to act, and act very quickly if the potentially drastic consequences of poorly controlled diabetes are to be avoided.

That’s why Diabetes Australia is calling for a National Diabetes Strategy and Action Plan for the next five years. Yes, we need to treat those already diagnosed and treat them better - and both patient and doctor can probably help there. It’s the tsunami of new patients that is going to hit in the very near future that will not only cause huge problems for those with diabetes, but could also blast a massive hole in our health care funding too.  That means less money for other areas of health, so in the end if we just sit on our hands, then every single one of us will be worse off!

So what is the big deal about diabetes? It’s just a problem with sugar isn’t it?

Firstly the numbers: over 1.5 million Australians have diabetes and that includes type I, type II and gestational diabetes - that’s the type pregnant mums can get if they put on too much weight - and these numbers are increasing in all categories.

Then there’s probably the biggest misconception about diabetes, which is that it’s a “sugar thing”. Yes, diabetics are not able to clear glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells where it is needed. We have to remember that glucose is the “petrol” that our bodies run on, and all the fuel/food that we put in our mouths whether it be protein, fats or carbohydrates/sugars, can be turned into glucose to fuel the system. So part of the challenge of diabetes education is to spread the word that it’s far more to do with what is happening to glucose within our bodies, and that it’s our overall nutrition which has a major impact on that: and that carbohydrate/sugar is only a part of the nutritional story.

The next issue is that we still have so much to find out about diabetes. There is no doubt about the real link between the huge increase in obesity and insulin resistance - that’s where insulin, which is the gatekeeper for glucose and helps it get into our cells, begins to fail to operate correctly - and the rise in type II diabetes. This probably also plays a role in gestational diabetes where those who may have a tendency towards developing diabetes, make it worse by putting on too much weight, leading to insulin resistance. With the rise in overweight, obese adults and children, and because diabetes is initially a “silent” disease, many of those with the problem don’t even know they’ve got diabetes until a complication begins to appear. And those complications are:
  • Damage to the kidneys leading to kidney failure, dialysis and even death!
  • Damage to the retina at the rear of the eye, leading to reduced vision or blindness.
  • Damage to the heart and premature cardiovascular disease and death.
  • Damage to the circulation in the legs and feet leading to ulcers and even amputations.
  • Damage to the nerves in the skin leading to numbness and skin ulcers.

The list is not a pretty one and that’s why we have to recognize this “threat” to our health and to the way of life of millions of future Australians. We have to act and act very soon if we are to make any impact in the short term.

We need to let our Governments know that this is a greater threat to our future than any invading force and they need to take urgent action.

We need to make sure that we work in global cooperation with diabetes researchers around the world to identify “evidence” based discoveries that could lead to greater understanding about the whole pathological process that is diabetes. And we constantly need to review the medications and therapies that we offer patients who are already suffering from the disease and its complications.

Finally, we all have a part to play. There is powerful evidence that obesity is linked to type II diabetes - the most common form - and that we need to help prevent people becoming overweight in the first place - and that’s why we need to do more in nutritional education. Secondly, there is strong evidence to show that effective physical activity in those who are overweight will help delay the onset of type II diabetes - so we all need to be more active.

Like so many chronic diseases of today we need to begin healthy nutrition right from the word go - which is infancy. And we need to be physically active in one way or another for the whole of our lives too. Now that seems to me to be a prescription for a wonderful future!

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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