Diabetes: An Underestimated, Misunderstood Disorder

As Kashmir is struggling with an increasing number of diabetic patients, Scholar Zeenat Farooq writes about the reasons, symptoms and measures to be taken care of

Diabetes Mellitus (DM) can simply be described as a metabolic disorder in which the blood glucose levels of the patient remain higher than normal (70-120 mg/dl) over a prolonged period of time.

When we take a meal rich in carbohydrates, the blood glucose levels go up which are brought back to normal by the action of hormone: Insulin. However, when there is a problem either in producing sufficient insulin or response of cells to insulin, this excess sugar builds up in the blood and manifests itself in the form of Diabetes.

There are two major types of DM. In Type-I DM, the blood glucose levels are elevated because the patient suffers insufficiency of the cells which produce the hormone insulin. In Type-II DM, the production of insulin often remains normal but our cells do not respond properly to it and hence the blood glucose levels are not brought back to normal.

This is the major form of DM accounting for about 85% of the cases. It usually arises in individuals after 40 years of age. Treatment for such patients usually comprise medicines, which increase the sensitivity of cells towards insulin for example, the commonly used drug Metformin.

Diabetes has always remained a major health concern in the western world but is taking its roots in Asia as well, primarily because of increased consumption of westernized food stuffs, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, stress, prolonged use of steroids etc. By 2030, India is believed to become the diabetes capital of the world.

Junk foods are one of the primary reasons which increase the likelihood of a person to develop diabetes. These foods contain only sugars and fats with none or negligible vitamins and minerals, and hence are of poor nutritive value. These only increase body’s fat without providing energy.

Sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity increase body’s fat content because the calories consumed in food are not utilized and hence are converted into fat, especially visceral fat which leads to secretion of some substances which can impart diabetes.

Diabetes is often an underestimated disorder as people who develop it often only rely on medicines to maintain their condition. However, Diabetes is much more than just a rise in blood sugar level. Some of the major problems associated with Diabetes are:

  1. Persistent uncontrolled diabetes results in long term Diabetic complications like: stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, hypertension, blurring or loss of vision.
  2. It increases the likelihood of catching opportunistic infections.
  3. It alters the metabolic profile of the patient.
  4. It can cause sepsis, if a diabetic patient with poorly controlled diabetes, is operated which can even result in death of the patient.
  5. It can cause gangrenes if a patient is injured. Such patients often need amputation if the condition is severe.

Some of the major misconceptions which can lead to above mentioned conditions:

  • Diabetes can be cured by medicines alone— This is a common mis-belief as the diabetes management needs exercise and healthy balanced diet as much as it needs medicine.
  • It is a simple endocrine disorder with merely a rise in blood sugar level — as mentioned above, prolonged Diabetes can lead to end term Diabetic complications like stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, hypertension, blurring or loss of vision.
  • Muscle wasting in diabetes occurs because of weakness and hence the patient should eat more — in fact, it occurs because of protein degradation due to prolonged uncontrolled Diabetes and hence the patient should take more care to regulate food intake and consult a doctor in order to avoid the problem.
  • Diabetes occurs only in individuals who have a family history of this disorder — only 2-5% of Diabetics globally have a genetic pre-disposition towards Diabetes.
  • There are no preventive measures against it and it occurs at random—It can be avoided or later managed by adopting a healthy lifestyle, performing regular exercise and taking less stress.
  • Diabetic patients should refrain from prolonged physical activity and rest more — they should in fact do more exercise to avoid uncontrolled Diabetes.
  • Taking artificial sweeteners and enjoying all the sweet dishes made with them will not harm — artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes which contain very low percentage of simple sugars. But these should be taken with caution as these are not absolutely sugar free and some may cause other health problems in some individuals.
  • Diabetics should refrain from sugars only but can take other stuffs like proteins and fats liberally. If proteins are taken in excess, these too are converted into glucose in our body and thus contribute to Diabetes and fats are themselves a major player in contributing not only to Diabetes but other health conditions like obesity, atherosclerosis, heart attacks etc.

(Author is a Research Scholar at Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.)

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