The only way to deal with diabetes is with solid information and by making educated choices. Yet, even though India is the world capital of diabetes, thanks to the fact that our country has the highest population of people affected by the disease on earth, most of us are clueless about what diabetes is, how to prevent it, and how to cope with it.
True, diabetes is not an easy subject to master: research studies into the disease are still being carried out, meaning there’s always more to learn about it. But here is a ready reckoner to get you thinking (hopefully to the point where you’ll get tested).
Myth #1: You show no symptoms of diabetes, so you’re fine
About one quarter of people with diabetes don’t know they have it. “Often people stay in the pre-diabetic stage (borderline blood glucose level) for as long as 10 years, and this can be dangerous as there are no symptoms at all, but the damage is happening inside the body,” says Dr Sudhindra Kulkarni, diabetologist and endocrinologist at Fortis Mulund & Kalyan. The only way to keep on top of the disease is to do blood sugar tests regularly.
Myth #2: Once you are diagnosed, you have to cut all carbs at once
This is so not true. You must have carbs – they help the body function. However, you have to choose them with care. Swap refined grains for whole grains such as wholewheat atta, dalia, jowar, ragi, bajra and brown rice, all of which release glucose into your blood slowly. Keep in mind that you must combine complex carbs with quality protein, so that the release of glucose becomes even slower. (Additional advantage: this makes the meal more filling.) Make multigrain rotis by mixing jowar, bajra and besan attas with wholewheat atta.
Myth #3: If you’re slim, you have little chance of developing diabetes
“Even thin people often have high abdominal fat, and this excess fat around the waist predisposes to Type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr Avhay Vispute, diabetologist, SRV Hospital, Mumbai. Unfortunately, slim people believe the myth, and so don’t do regular blood sugar tests.
The best way to cut your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes is by losing even 5 to 10 per cent of excess body weight, says Dr Kulkarni. “And everyone must engage in regular physical activity,” he adds.
Diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors rather than just by having too much sugar (Shutterstock)
Myth #4: Sugar is your only enemy
Unfortunately, diabetes has many more causes than too much sugar. “The truth is that diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors,” says Dr Vispute. “Too much sugar can be bad for all of us because it tends to be found in fattening foods like cookies and ice cream, and a diet high in fat and sugar can cause you to become overweight, which increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”
Other factors that help cause diabetes include…
Smoking: It increases blood sugar levels and leads to insulin resistance. Passive smoking has the same effect.
Nitrates: These are also carcinogenic and raise the risk of nerve diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, they are found in almost all foods, especially cured meats, bacon, cheese and beer.
Poor sleep: Not sleeping well can lead to a craving for high-calorie foods, which can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. “Those who suffer from sleep apnea are worst affected, as fragmented sleep (from not being able to breathe properly at night) can cause a decrease in insulin production and also lead to an increase in the production of cortisol, a hormone which raises blood sugar,” explains Dr Manvir Bhatia, director, sleep medicine, at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute & Neurology Sleep Centre, Delhi.
Alcohol: “While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to rise, excess alcohol can actually decrease them — sometimes causing it to drop to dangerous levels,” warns Dr Vispute.
Myth #5: You have to completely avoid everything sweet
You actually can factor in the odd sweet food every now and then if you ask your doctor how to do it and balance its effects so that it works out well. “However, platefuls of sweets are not okay for anyone, whether you do or do not have diabetes, so if you’re feeling bad that you can’t binge, then reassure yourself that you’re on the road out of a bad habit,” says Dr KM Prasanna Kumar, senior endocrinologist and diabetologist at the Centre for Diabetes & Endocrine Care (CDEC), Bangalore.
Myth #6: Diabetes is simply a lifestyle disease
Actually, there are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes refers to a condition in which the pancreas cannot produce insulin, which means that glucose in your body cannot be processed, and your blood sugar level climbs high. This is usually genetic (so keep an eye on your family health history), but sometimes can develop due to other factors.
Type 2 diabetes happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin properly. This is mainly lifestyle-related.
Gestational diabetes occurs due to hormone changes during pregnancy that tend to increase blood sugar levels. This usually clears up or greatly improves after giving birth.
Myth #7: There’s no way to regulate your blood sugar except by avoiding sugar
Untrue. Research, both recent and longstanding, shows that certain foods and lifestyle tricks can help regulate your blood sugar. These are…
Fish: DHA is a special type of omega 3 fatty acid which, according to research published in the journal Cell, is the key to reduce inflammation in the body and thus help lower the risk of diabetes. Oily fish, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines, are its richest dietary source. Algae and seaweed are the only vegetarian sources.
Cinnamon: Sprinkling just a pinch of cinnamon on your morning cuppa can work wonders. This spice activates essential enzymes in the body, which stimulate the cells to respond more efficiently to insulin. This helps prevent diabetes.
Dairy foods: Research published in the ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research in April 2014 shows that protein found in milk and cheese can help keep diabetes away, even in those who are obese. Another study published in the journal Diabetologia shows that high yoghurt consumption as compared to nil consumption helps cut the diabetes risk by 28 per cent. So do have a serving of dahi every day.
Breast feeding: Clinical research found that babies who breastfeed till they are least three months old had a lower incidence of Type 1 diabetes and may be less likely to become obese as adults.
Post dinner stroll: A recent study has shown that a 10-minute walk after dinner helps brings post-meal blood sugar levels down by 22 per cent, and is more effective than walking at other times of the day.
Myth #8: Diabetes is an individual condition, it cannot lead to anything else
How we wish this was true. But unfortunately, diabetes can be the kick-off point for other ill health conditions, as you will see below.
Heart disease: Diabetics are two-to-four times more at risk of heart disease than others. “The higher a person’s blood sugar level, the higher is the risk of getting diabetic heart disease (DHD),” warns Dr Kulkarni.
Erectile dysfunction: “Diabetes increases the risk of erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Kulkarni. “This problem occurs in diabetic patients 10-15 years earlier than among healthy men.”
Blindness: Uncontrolled diabetes causes damage to the capillaries and blood vessels of the eyes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 28.5 per cent of diabetics aged 40 and over suffer from some form of retinopathy (from blurry vision to outright blindness).
Myth #9: Humans are the only creatures who can get diabetes
Keep an eye on your pets: our furry friends can get it as well. Male cats and female dogs are more likely to develop diabetes and the causes are usually the same as among humans – diet, genetics and lack of exercise.
How celebs cope with diabetes… SWEETLY!
Fawad Khan suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which was discovered when he had an accident at the age of 17. Though Type 1 is mostly genetic, it can also be caused due to an autoimmune disorder caused by a viral infection. Fawad says he keeps it in control via daily insulin shots and a strictly monitored of diet of low glycemic index carbs, lean protein sources and a mix of vegetables. He is a stickler for proper meal timings and regular physical exercise.
This versatile actor suffers from Type 1 diabetes. He is very conscious about what he eats, avoids alcohol completely and is an active yoga practitioner.
The Bond girl was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1988 at the age of 23 when she slipped into a diabetic coma while at work on the set of a TV show. It was a shock to the slender, fit, Oscar winner as there was no family history. She overhauled her diet and takes daily insulin injections.
Hayek suffered from gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy), which apparently runs in her family.
Billie Jean King
This all-time great tennis player was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2006. She lost about 16 kg to fight the disease.
Hanks was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2013. He blames the unhealthy diet he followed when he was younger. He now follows strict exercise plans.