Years ago, Diabetes Mellitus (DM) was a disease associated with old age. For young people, this wasn’t really an issue and it wasn’t very common to see children with insulin injections setting up shots etc. But it’s not such a rarity any more.
A couple of weeks ago, in church, the pastor shared a story of a child brought into the hospital who did not have any obvious signs of illness but on investigation, it was realised that she was diabetic. The blood glucose was so high she had to be kept back in the hospital for treatment to start. The poor girl was confused…’why am I being kept in the hospital when I’m not even ill?’ (at least she didn’t feel ill). But for her parents, things had changed…very radically! This beautiful child they had was now going to be consigned to a life of pills and injections.
Now, pills and injections are a good thing if they preserve life and indeed improve or at least do not negatively alter the quality of life of the person taking them. But perhaps there’s something we can do to stop the relentless march of this scourge?
To put things in context, let’s discuss briefly what Diabetes Mellitus is. Usually, the food we eat is converted to simple sugars inside our bodies. An organ of the body, the pancreas secretes insulin which moves these sugars into the cells. In DM, this doesn’t happen as the body does not respond to the stimulus of glucose in the blood by releasing insulin or is unable to produce insulin. There are 2 types of DM: type 1 and type 2. In type 1, which usually occurs in children, the insulin secreting cells are destroyed. So there is no insulin to send the glucose into the cells. In the latter, the cells of the body that produce insulin are no longer able to do so when there is a load of sugar in the blood. They become insensitive to the sugar stimulus. There are also gestational DM and MODY – Maturity Onset Diabetes in the Young. We won’t go into these last two.
So, is the popular story that when I take a lot of sugary things then I can become diabetic true? Well, it’s not a lie. But it’s not just the sugary nature of the food that’s a problem. These foods are processed, depriving the body of the real nutrients they require. They are empty calories and so eating them floods the blood stream with sugar which quickly dissipates leaving the person hungry again and desiring yet another sugar fix! Other starchy foods are also culprit. Eating too much leads to over flooding of the blood stream with simple sugars which may overwhelm the pancreas that produce insulin. Complex carbs on the other hand cause a more gradual increase in blood sugar, which is better for you.
So what to do to prevent Diabetes Mellitus in our children and in ourselves…especially for those who are already pre-diabetic (people with higher than normal glucose levels but not high enough to be called diabetic) or have a family history of DM (bearing in mind that this will mostly work for type 1 DM)? Two words of advice: stay active and stay lean.
Staying active involves ensuring some physical activity everyday. Most of us live sedentary lifestyles now and hardly engage ourselves in activities or encourage our children to. All those video and computer games we buy for our children have taken over their lives…well, sort of. They plop down in front of them merrily chasing the characters along their way and watching all manner of shows: learning things we want them to (maybe) and the ones we’re shocked actually gets shown on TV!
Staying lean involves eating healthy…ensuring that we enforce portion control. Half our plates should be filled with veggies, a quarter with protein and a quarter with complex carbs (yam, potatoes, beans etc). Discover the different veggies available in the market or grocery shop and find a way of incorporating these into your meal plan.
Others measures include: quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake and reduce the consumption of processed foods.
So next time you feel the need for a sugar fix, remember the fact that this second of pleasure may end with a lifetime of pain.
Here’s to a healthier you!