Diabetes: Is This Worldwide Epidemic Preventable?
In a report issued Monday, November 3, the International Diabetes Federation predicts that one in 10 adults could have diabetes by 2030. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 346 million people worldwide with diabetes and it projects that diabetes death will double by 2030. Although these figures include both types of diabetes, most cases of diabetes are Type 2, which mainly affects people in middle age, and is linked to weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle.
As I’ve discussed before, the hormone insulin is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates. In excessive amounts, insulin can promote fat storage, inflammation, and plaque formation. The elevation of blood sugar that characterizes Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to use insulin effectively (insulin resistance). Most Type 2 diabetics have elevated insulin levels, and the frequent medical practice of providing more insulin with injections or other drugs can accelerate cardiovascular complications and make weight management problematic. Type 2 diabetes can cause damage to the nerves (neuropathy), the eyes (retinopathy) and the kidneys (nephropathy).
The gradual accumulation of several risk factors leads down a long road that results in diabetes. Those risk factors are:
- A diet high in refined carbohydrates.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Ethnicity. Some ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, have a high incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
- History of gestational diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Elevated blood sugar.
- Abnormal blood lipids.
- High blood pressure.
- Increasing age.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a genetic propensity for the disease combined with an unhealthy lifestyle. Certain genetically predisposed races and cultures do not get Type 2 diabetes until exposed to significant amounts of refined carbohydrates. However, it is possible to be at risk for Type 2 diabetes even without a family history of the illness.
Despite these dismal diabetes statistics released by the International Diabetes Federation this week, Gojka Roglic, head of WHO’s diabetes unit, does say a substantial number of these future cases could be preventable if people take the right interventions. This is the key to Type 2 diabetes as damage to the body can begin long before a diagnosis of diabetes. Both prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes requires proper nutrition and exercise. By controlling risk factors one has a very good chance of preventing the disease, especially in concert with early recognition of the signs leading to diabetes. A controlled-carbohydrate nutritional plan, like Atkins, can be helpful in stabilizing blood sugar and insulin production, promoting weight loss and reducing other cardiovascular risk factors associated with this condition.
Over the past several years, peer-reviewed, independent research has made an increasingly compelling argument for controlled-carbohydrate nutrition and its role in preventing and controlling serious medical conditions like Type 2 diabetes. In 2005, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and presented in 2004 at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting confirmed the benefits of using the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ to Type 2 diabetes patients. The study showed that patients on Atkins improved their insulin sensitivity and glycemic control and reduced their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Other clinical results published in the medical journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders have also demonstrated that the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ can help prevent Type 2 diabetes by controlling symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. This cluster of conditions includes abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL, high blood pressure and glucose intolerance. The data showed that patients who follow a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle may be able to reduce their dependence on medications relating to blood sugar abnormalities (i.e. metabolic syndrome and diabetes). Subjects studied were able to reduce their blood sugar levels and improve their lipid profiles; half of them were able to normalize their blood sugar levels completely and stop their medication by following an Atkins-type regimen. Patients also demonstrated lipid profiles consistent with other studies on low-carb, which include a significant decrease in triglycerides and increase in HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
The lesson here is that prevention is key to this potential worldwide epidemic, and it can be done simply by changing the way you eat. And the research continues to show that a controlled-carbohydrate nutrition plan like Atkins could be the solution.
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1. Yancy, W.S., Vernon, M.C., Westman, E.C., "A Pilot Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes," Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 1(3), 2003, pages 239-243.
2. Hays, J.H., Gorman, R.T., Shakir, K.M., "Results of Use of Metformin and Replacement of Starch with Saturated Fat in Diets of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes," Endocrine Practice, 8(3), 2002, pages 177-183.
3. Vernon, M.C., Mavropoulos, J., Transue, M., et al., "Clinical Experience of a Carbohydrate-Restricted Diet: Effect on Diabetes Mellitus," Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 1(3), 2003, pages 233-237.
4. Boden G, Sargrad K, Homko C, Mozzoli M, Stein TP. Effect of a low carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2005; 142:403-11. [PMID: 15767618]