Since 2000, the number of people in Canada with diabetes has doubled. Today, one in three Canadians lives with prediabetes or diabetes. Those 20-year-olds now have a 50-50 chance of developing the disease. The risk for some indigenous people is 80 per cent. Close to 40 per cent of newly diagnosed cases occur in seniors.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that diminishes the body’s ability to usher glucose into cells for use as our primary energy source. To enter our cells, a “gatekeeper” called insulin must let it in. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. Over 90 percent of those with diabetes have type 2; they typically produce insulin, but their cells have become “insulin resistant”. Here, insulin cannot do its job; blood glucose levels rise as sugar is blocked from entering cells. Over time, body tissues become awash in sugar and health tumbles down a rather predictable slippery slope.
Essentially, being a product of diet and lifestyle, type 2 diabetes is insidious, often undetected for many years. Its rise roughly parallels the increase in weight gain and obesity. Risk doubles in those who are overweight and triples in the obese. Excess body fat plays a strong role and fat distribution is perhaps even more significant. Weight around the abdomen (apple-shape) increases risk far more than weight around legs and hips (pear-shape). Visceral fat in and around vital organs is potentially damaging. Once referred to as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes today occurs in teens and even children.
Diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose level of at least 7.0 mmol/L (126 mg/dl). Pre-diabetes is often manifested as “metabolic syndrome”, characterized by elevated blood glucose 6.1 mmol/L (110 mg/dl) or more), abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, and low HDL-cholesterol levels. Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, premature heart attack and stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage, and amputations. Most people with diabetes do not die of diabetes: they die of heart disease, kidney failure, and other complications.
Some believe type 2 diabetes to be a matter of bad genes, more than bad habits. While some populations have greater susceptibility, genes serve primarily as a loaded gun. It is almost always diet and lifestyle that pull the trigger.
Diabetes can be prevented and reversed
A meta-analysis reviewed 9 well-designed trials, looking at the relationships between dietary choice and diet. They found significant evidence that the choice of a plant-based diet improves glycemic control, and controls potentially damaging blood cholesterol levels, body weight and adiposity in individuals with diabetes.
A new resource featuring delicious recipes using plant foods without added sugars and fats is The Kick Diabetes Cookbook (B. Davis and V. Melina, kickdiabetescookbook.com). An excellent option for preventing, treating, and even reversing type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases is the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). A scientifically validated program, CHIP has been proven to reduce your risk factors through lifestyle changes. —
Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis are Registered Dietitians. See video and resources at www.becomingvegan.ca and www.brendadavisrd.com