Cases of diabetes on the rise
If you don't know someone with diabetes, there's a good chance you soon will.
A recent study found the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes has doubled over the last 30 years. Another estimated that a third of U.S. adults -- more than 73 million -- have diabetes or may be developing it.
Simply put, it's an epidemic, and it's driven by sedentary lifestyle and obesity, the upswing of which closely parallels the growth of the disease, says Dr. Kimberley Bourne, an Orlando, Fla., endocrinologist who treats diabetics.
But here's some good news: Most cases of Type 2 -- once called "adult onset" -- are preventable. You can head off the disease with lifestyle changes, says Dr. Robert Rizza, president of the American Diabetes Association. "In fact, if you stay lean and fit, you reduce your changes of getting the disease by 95 percent. It's almost totally preventable."
The prescription? Diet and exercise.
What it is
Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn't produce, doesn't properly use, or ignores insulin. The hormone regulates the metabolism of blood glucose -- sugar -- which fuels our cells.
When diabetes takes hold, glucose can build up in the body and coat blood vessels and nerves. Left untreated, the disease can cause an array of devastating maladies, including blindness, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. When glucose interrupts nerve impulses and blood flow to extremities, diabetics sometimes are unaware of things such as cuts, scrapes and blisters, which may become infected. In severe cases, an amputation might be necessary.
Though the exact cause of diabetes hasn't been determined, research has repeatedly pointed a finger at obesity -- usually a result of an inactive lifestyle and a poor diet -- as perhaps the greatest risk of all. As weight increases, the pancreas pumps out more and more insulin to handle increased blood sugars. "If the pancreas could make endless amounts, you might be OK," Bourne says. "But it says, 'I can't do it anymore."'
By the time signs of diabetes show up -- numbness in extremities, extreme hunger, frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased fatigue and blurry vision among them -- the damage already has begun.
But the ability to fend off diabetes is within almost everyone's grasp.
Exercise and a proper diet not only can help to decrease weight, they can take a bite out of high blood sugar. Says Bourne: "We used to think it [diabetes] was a slippery slope of progression," but research has found that the prescription can reduce blood sugars in diabetics and help those diagnosed as "pre-diabetic" to return to normal levels.
Prevention and early treatment of diabetes are paramount goals, says Mark Williams, CEO of Community Health Centers Inc., which operates a network of central Florida clinics and offers diabetes screening. "As a community, diabetes is one of those diseases that screams 'treat me early' so we can avoid complications, because complications are so very expensive."