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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine December 2000

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The Diabetes
Epidemic

by: Angela Pirisi

Page 1 of 2

imageAccording to new research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the burden of diabetes has been growing at a disturbing rate over the past decade.(1) The recent data shows that diabetes rose by 33% between 1990 and 1998 among the US population nationally. The disease incidence rose by 70% among people in their 30s over the same period, by 40% among 40-49 year olds, and by 31% among those age 50-59, and about 13% of those 60-plus had the disease. Add to these figures the fact that about 800,000 new cases crop up each year, and it's fair to say that diabetes is spiraling out of control.

The recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures paint a picture that gives Americans cause for despair. At the same time, the new data gives those with a family history of diabetes, a poor diet, and/or a sedentary lifestyle a strong wake-up call that's as subtle as a blow to the head. The most disconcerting part of the latest information is that diabetes is no longer a disease reserved for an aging population that inherently suffers a slowing down of metabolism and lower glucose tolerance. Diabetes' victims are getting younger, lending much more time for the disease to ripen to the point of presenting complications by the time middle age rolls around.

A recent Newsweek cover story, “An American Epidemic: Diabetes,”(2) which refers to diabetes (Type II diabetes in particular) as the “next great lifestyle disease epidemic to afflict the United States,” also notes that diabetes is more specifically becoming “a disease of the young.” As Dr. Arthur Rubenstein, a leading endocrinologist and dean of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, expresses in the feature, the growing number of Type II diabetes cases among teenagers is very disconcerting. He is quoted as saying that, “If people become diabetic at age 10 or 15 or 20, you can predict that when they are 30 or 40, they could have terrible complications.”

image Nearly 16 million Americans have diabetes, but over 5 million of them don't even know it
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As it stands, nearly 16 million Americans have diabetes, but over 5 million of them don't even know it—the latter figure represents the number of people that currently go undiagnosed. In fact, it's believed that diabetes is underreported on death certificates, both as a condition and as a cause of death. Future health prospects in America don't look any brighter either, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the number of diabetics expected to jump from 16 to 22 million by 2025. It's also growing as indiscriminate as cancer, striking out across the ages, assaulting both sexes and every race to boot. Figures from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases show that 7.5 million men (8.2%) and 8.1 million women (8.2%) have diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data revealed that Hispanics had a 38% increase in diabetes compared to whites, who had a 29% increase and blacks with a 26% increase.

Defining diabetes

There are four types of diabetes, including Type I, Type II, gestational diabetes and a miscellaneous kind that can stem from genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections and other illnesses. However, gestational diabetes usually is limited to the pregnancy period and affects about 2% to 5% of all pregnancies. Meanwhile, specific “other” types of diabetes only account for a mere 1% to 2% of diagnosed cases. Type I and II are more common, and the latter is the one that is afflicting a disproportionate number of people. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease that mainly assaults the body by halting its natural production of the hormone insulin, which the body needs to metabolize and store the glucose it gets from food. As insidious as this form of the disease is, it makes up only about 5% to 10% of diabetes cases, lashing out mostly as adolescence sets in. That's why it's become commonly known as juvenile diabetes, even though the narrow term doesn't allude to the fact that the disease abides by its host for the rest of his/her life.

Type II diabetes, formerly named non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes, isn't characterized by the inability to produce any insulin—at least, not at first. Instead, this form of diabetes, which accounts for 90% to 95% of cases, causes one's pancreas to shift into overdrive, churning out copious amounts of insulin in a fear-stricken attempt to try keeping up with ever rising levels of blood glucose. Eventually, though, ambition is overtaken by defeat, and the pancreas may give up trying to keep up with glucose control, and the unfortunate result is dangerously high glucose levels in the face of insulin deficiency. Under normal circumstances, glucose is the fuel that energizes the body's cells. In diabetes, however, glucose hangs around in the blood instead of going to cells, which means that energy is now in short supply. Over time, the blood-glucose overload can lead to complications that can threaten the eyes, heart, kidneys or nerves.

Yet, surprisingly, people persist in their perception of diabetes as simply blood-sugar levels that are a little high or low, rather than recognizing it for the long list of debilitating and deadly complications it heralds. First and foremost, diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that death rates related to heart disease among adult diabetics are two to four times as high as among non-diabetic adults. The chances of having a stroke also are two to four times higher in diabetics. Uncontrolled diabetes is also associated with horrific complications such as blindness, kidney disease, as well as hypertension, amputations and congenital defects and still births. Further, diabetics are less resistant to infection, such as influenza and pneumonia. The result of this onslaught of related illnesses is a staggering death toll that could simply earn diabetes a new name—the Grim Reaper. According to data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, diabetes was the cause of some 193,140 deaths in 1996, making it the seventh leading cause of death. Their figures show that death rates are also twice as high among middle-aged diabetics when compared to non-diabetics of the same age group.

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