Solving the Diabetes Crisis

The diabetes crisis is overwhelming – globally. More than 371 million adults are affected worldwide, a number that is expected to swell to over 550 million by the year 2030 if serious changes are not made, changes that are well within reach.

In the United States, 25.8 million people have diabetes, 95 percent of those individuals are afflicted with the preventable, type 2 diabetes, while 5 percent struggle with type 1 diabetes. Once upon a time, these diseases affected few – type 1 was known as “juvenile” diabetes, while type 2 was known as “adult-onset” and cases among anyone under 40 were rare. Today, however, the battle against diabetes is a unique struggle. The statistics often combine both types, but type 1 diabetics cannot prevent their condition, type 2 on the other hand is fully preventable – even with a family history.

Understanding the differences between the two types can help individuals understand what each patient is up against and the battle against the disease has become so complex – drugs verses lifestyle changes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is classically diagnosed at a very young age; hence the previous name “juvenile diabetes.” Individuals with type 1 diabetes are struggling with an autoimmune condition, meaning the body is attacking its own system. Although the exact cause of the disease is not known, many experts believe that people with type 1 diabetes are born with a gene for the disease, which may be undetected for the first several years of life and suddenly become activated by something environmental.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas fail to produce insulin, the hormone responsible for reducing blood sugar (glucose) when levels become too high. Insulin ensures the transport of glucose to cells throughout the body to be used as energy. If no insulin is present to do this job, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, causing thirst, fatigue and hunger and often resulting in damage to nerves, blood vessels and organs. Type 1 diabetics must always supplement insulin and carefully manage their eating patterns to avoid risk of death.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease almost exclusive to older adults, but in the last two decades a growing number of children, teens and young adults have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This phenomenon is believed to be largely attributed to increased rates of obesity among these population groups as well.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels or insulin sensitivity is weakened. Type 2 diabetes is generally a result of lifestyle factors, such as excess weight, inactivity and poor eating habits.  Over time, these habits cause the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin to become overworked and fail to regulate insulin levels, leaving type 2 diabetic patients susceptible to heart disease, kidney failure, loss of sensation in limbs, blindness and sexual dysfunction.

Genetics plays a role in type 2 diabetes – individuals with a family history are more susceptible to the disease, but unlike type 1 diabetes or cancer, prevention is possible. Maintaining a healthy weight, routine physical activity and a healthy diet can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. In most cases, individuals who have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can reduce the impact of the disease by striving to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Diabetes Treatment Paradox

Before 1922, a diabetes diagnosis of either type meant an early death, but thanks to a greater understanding of the disease and the discovery of insulin, diabetics can survive and live a nearly normal life – if they care for their health.

Type 1 diabetics will always need insulin. Even the healthiest of habits cannot change their need for the drug. However, type 2 diabetics could avoid the medication and all the complications of the disease, if they improve their eating habits, maintain an active lifestyle and strive to achieve a healthy weight.

With this in mind, it is baffling how widespread this disease has become. Following the trail of obesity all over the globe, type 2 diabetes is a result of poor lifestyle choices. The cure does not need to be found – it exists!

Yet, drug companies continue to chase after a solution that can be bottled and sold. More programs, like the UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention Program are needed. UnitedHealth Group has partnered with Walgreens and the YMCA to bring diabetes programs to communities across the country – at no charge to participants. Right now, the Diabetes Prevention Program classes are offered at 74 facilities in 31 states with plans for expansion. This is how we conquer this disease. Medication should be the last resort, not the first.

Diagnosing Diabetes

More than 50 percent of the individuals suffering from type 2 diabetes do not even know they have the disease and an even larger group is pre-diabetic. Everyone should be encouraged to ask their physician for an hgba1c screening test to determine if they are pre-diabetic. This will allow you to work with your physician and engage in an aggressive treatment program to reverse a pre-diabetes diagnosis. Early treatment, including and especially, healthy lifestyle changes, of pre-diabetes and diabetes can prevent or reverse the disease or risk of disease, in most cases.