Thursday, May 19, 2011
Bitter Lesson of Sweet Life
I don't usually insert other people's content but this article clearly explains how you wear out your "insulin gland" and it is important information.
This article was written by Paula Goodyer for The Age newspaper.
"We all have some idea of how our heart works, but hands up who understands their pancreas? Or even knows where it is? But making friends with this little organ tucked between your stomach and your spine is a smart move - it can help you avoid what endocrinologist Katherine Samaras calls the ‘white ant disease’: type 2 diabetes.
“It’s a disease that nibbles quietly away at the foundations and structure of your health like white ants nibbling on your house – and a big part of the problem is that people have no clear idea of what diabetes is. People often need strong pain signals to take action on their health but you often can’t feel diabetes,” says Associate Professor Samaras, Head of Diabetes and Obesity Clinical Studies at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
Perhaps a better name for type 2 diabetes would be ‘burnt out pancreas’ because that’s what it is. Exhausted by the effects of inactivity and too many kilos, the cells in the pancreas that provide the insulin we need for blood glucose control eventually wear out.
A diet that’s overloaded with carbohydrates – even excessive amounts of good quality low GI carbohydrates – can also put pressure on the pancreas she adds, and some fats including trans fats and saturated fat make it harder for insulin to work.
“I’m not advocating low carb fad diets but we do need to watch the amount of carbs we put on our plate,” she says.
On the other hand good fats like fish oil and olive oil appear to improve insulin sensitivity – a recent Spanish study found that in people at risk of diabetes, a modest increase in olive oil in the diet improved their blood glucose control and reduced their need for diabetes medication later on, she adds.
But diabetes doesn’t happen overnight. Instead there’s a stage called pre-diabetes which means blood glucose levels are slightly higher than normal. At this point people have already lost about 50 per cent of their ability to produce insulin and are knocking on the door of full blown diabetes, Samaras says. But you’ve still got a fighting chance of preserving your insulin function if you do the right thing.
“Losing weight, being more active and being prepared to watch what you eat for the rest of your life can stop you going over the line into diabetes. People are becoming more aware of getting their blood glucose checked just as they get their cholesterol checked. In my experience when people realise they have pre-diabetes they’re motivated to get on top of it. I know people who were diagnosed with pre-diabetes 10 years ago and are still on the right side of the line.
Around one in four Australian adults now have pre-diabetes – often without knowing it. Clues that you could in the running include a spreading waistline - more than 80 cm/30 inches (for a woman) and 94 cm/37 inches for men – or 90cm/35 inches for men from an Indian, Malaysian, Chinese or Japanese background. Having sugar cravings can sometimes be another clue, Samaras says. Being young doesn’t guarantee protection either.
“About 15 years ago I remember being shocked that a patient who was only 35 years old already had diabetes – now I regularly see people in their 20s and 30s with this problem,” she says.
Still, it’s not as if no one told us about the links between billowing waistlines and diabetes, but Samaras thinks we need more than health warnings.
“Forty or 50 years ago diabetes prevention was built into our environment because we were more physically active and you couldn’t buy fast food – and when food rationing was introduced in Britain during World War II, the rates of diabetes dramatically decreased.
“I’m not suggesting we bring back rationing, but we need better public transport, more parks for people to be active in – and more partnership between governments and the food industry to reduce the amount of cheap energy dense foods,” she says."
Paula Goodyer is a Walkley Award winning health writer and this is the article I wish I'd written.