As I write this it is World Diabetes Day. As you read this, it probably isn’t. But one awareness day a year isn’t really what’s important. What is, is that you actively try not to have the disease.
You’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard of New Zealand’s burgeoning diabetes problem. But in case you haven’t – let me spell it out for you. Firstly about 10% of people with diabetes have something called type 1 diabetes, and it often strikes in childhood. Having said that I have a friend who developed it as an adult. It can’t be prevented and has no known cure. Your pancreas simply does not produce insulin (or very little). You need insulin to keep your blood glucose (sugars) at the right levels, so if your body can’t produce any, or very little, you need to regularly measure the amount of glucose in your blood and then inject yourself with the right amount of insulin you need to deal with the glucose. The insulin unlocks the glucose as such, so your body can utilise it. Having too much glucose (being hyperglycaemic) or too little (being hypoglycaemic) in your body is dangerous and with the automatic regulation system not working, it’s a matter of manually adjusting things. An ongoing gig sadly.
The vast majority of people with diabetes though have type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable by following a healthy lifestyle. This is the one all the fuss is about. When you eat too much added sugar, the pancreas has to release large amounts of insulin to deal with all that sugar. Over time, changes happen in your body, one of which is insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. That avalanche of sugar is all too much for such a finely tuned system and it just gives up trying. The pancreas waves the white flag of surrender. Then you’re in trouble. The complications of diabetes long term are not pretty – if I could pick one though to give you a fright think of those dialysis wards full of people hooked up to machines that have to clean their blood three days a week, because the pancreas has passed that white flag of surrender on to the kidneys, and they too are unable to do their day jobs – cleaning your blood.
This preventable disease will put enormous burden on our health system in years to come. It’s already started in fact, and because there are now younger and younger people being diagnosed means things are only going to get tougher for our health service’s ability to cope with the sheer volume of patients needing treatment.
So the answer is super simple. So simple you wonder why we don’t do it. Watch your body weight by eating healthily and exercising. Why we don’t is perhaps the complex thing – something tomes are written about, public health money is trying to address, and people are trying to help others by getting alongside them to make some fundamental changes in their lifestyle. But it is hard – it’s far more than just an individual mind-set that’s needed. It’s a NZ inc thing too, with industry needing to come to the party too I feel. We need less sugar on tap.
Having an environment that is obesogenic is not helpful. When sugary drinks are the norm for kids and water and milk is not – we have a time bomb. A third of children are considered overweight or obese in NZ now and unless we reverse that trend, we are diabetes central.
So some take home tips – in no particular order, and not from an expert, but I figure they won’t be too far wrong!
- Make half your dinner plate vegetables.
- Prepare good food if you can before you get hungry. Chuck some simple casseroles or the like in the freezer, so on the days life is challenging, food does not need to be.
- Shop for food your mother or grandmother might have been shopping for. It’ll be cheaper too.
- Make some time to learn to cook.
- Eat a decent breakfast – no, not a sugary cereal.
- Visit diabetes.org.nz and find out more
- Move more in a day. Even a little bit more.
- Don’t buy soft drinks so they are not on offer.
- See what the researchers and public health docs are saying at fizz.org.nz
- Think about what you need to do now to be able to grow old healthily.
Find out more here.