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Diabetes: an introduction


The total number of cases of diabetes in Canada is growing at an alarming rate. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, every year one in four Canadians is at risk of developing diabetes, which by the way is a leading cause of many other serious conditions such as heart, kidney, eye disease, nerve damage, and impotence. A common misconception is that diabetes is not deadly and yet statistics show that it is the leading cause of death worldwide! Another common misconception is that diabetes is hereditary, but while having a parent who suffers from diabetes increases your chances of developing this medical condition, genes are not the only factor that plays a role. Healthcare professionals, however, believe that the diabetes epidemic is preventable through education about its causes and how it develops.

So, what is diabetes?

Diabetes is a term we generally use when we try to describe one of the four conditions related to how our bodies treat glucose. Glucose is a specific type of sugar, which your body converts into energy to power all of your cells. This conversion requires insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas and released naturally in your blood stream to regulate and promote the absorption of glucose into all cells of your body. A person who suffers from diabetes cannot process glucose properly, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or because the cells become overexposed to glucose and desensitized to insulin.

The 4 types of diabetes are:

- Type 1 Diabetes is a lifelong condition, which is typically diagnosed during early adolescence. The pancreas of a patient with this type of diabetes does not produce enough insulin and the patient must take insulin injections daily. Type 1 Diabetes affects only 10% of all diabetes patients.

- Type 2 Diabetes is a treatable and in some cases reversible condition associated with desensitization of the cells' insulin receptors caused by persistent high levels of sugar in the blood. Anybody with a high carbohydrate diet, in other words anybody who eats too much sugar and starch, can and will eventually trigger Type 2 Diabetes. Typically, all adults over 45 years of age are at risk of developing this condition.

- Gestational Diabetes affects about 10% of all pregnant women but could be prevented by careful monitoring of blood sugar levels during the first 24 to 28 weeks into the pregnancy. This is a serious condition, which may have fatal consequences for the mother and the baby if it is not treated.

-Prediabetes or chronic hyperglycemia is a mild condition caused by eating too much sugar, which eventually leads to Type 2 Diabetes

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Initially, these are the most common symptoms a person with diabetes may experience

- unusual thirst, which is not easily satisfied.
- eye problems such as blurry vision or failing eyesight
- fatigue after eating

Prediabetics may also experience:

- excessive drowsiness
- anxiety or nervousness
- headaches or dizziness
- inability to concentrate
- heart palpitrations, tremors, or cold sweats
- muscle pains or twitching
- digestive issues
- allergies
- insomnia

As the disease progresses, these additional symptoms may take hold:

- constant hunger and cravings for sweets
- increased number of infections
- open sores and slower healing time
- skin itching and crawling sensations
- very high levels of sugar in the blood / urine
- changes in weight

Who is at risk of developing diabetes?

Race seems to play a role in the type of diabetes a person may get. Typically, First Nations People, Africans, and Asians are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes whereas Caucasians are more likely to develop Type 1 Diabetes.

In terms of just your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, several of these factors can make a difference:

- high carbohydrate diet
-sedentary lifestyle
-high blood pressure
-low HDL cholesterol
-high LDL cholesterol
-family history

Can Type 2 Diabetes be prevented?

There is a correlation between obesity and Type 2 Diabetes and it has been shown that a healthy diet combined with regular exercise can prevent, or even reverse Type 2 Diabetes. If you suspect you may have diabetes or prediabetes, talk to your healthcare practitioner to evaluate your situation and assess your risks. Typically, your healthcare practitioner will request measuring the levels of sugar in your blood before diagnosing you with diabetes.

To learn more about preventing, treating, and reversing diabetes we recommend the following books:

The Inflammation Syndrome: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies, and Asthma

Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival

Sugar Blues

Reversing Diabetes


Canadian Diabetes Association,

"Long-Term Consequences of Diabetes" by Dr. Chris D. Meletis in the Townsend Letter, May 2009.

"Reversing Diabetes" by Julian Whitaker, MD; Warner Books; New York, NY; 2001

"The Diet Cure" by Julia Ross, MD; Penguin Books; New York, NY; 2000"

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