Diabetes ? Let Us Educate Ourselves

Fri, 12 Nov 2004 Source: Panford, Kwamina Mbra

Diabetes Mellitus has now become a much feared disease which inflicts serious punishment on the body; strokes, heart attacks, kidney failures, blindness, and amputations. As fearsome as diabetes is, it can be controlled and some instances prevented. The disturbing part of diabetes is that it is becoming more prevalent in Ghana in particular and Africa in general.

Sadly diabetes attacks the sections of the world which can least afford to fight it financially. The maintenance drug insulin is so expensive that most Ghanaians cannot afford it. The most effective way of fighting the disease is; prevention. The most essential component of prevention is; knowledge. This means we have to educate ourselves.

Diabetes is broken down into 2 types. There is juvenile diabetes which a person is born with and it is called ?Type 1 Diabetes?. Then there is the acquired diabetes popularly known as Type 2 or adult diabetes. An individual is considered diabetic when his/her body fails to produce enough insulin, the hormone that converts sugar, carbohydrates and other foods into energy which is needed in our daily lives.

Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes basically affects children. Juvenile diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means the body?s immune system malfunctions by attacking and destroying the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The cause of such occurrence is not yet understood by medical science. Unfortunately juvenile diabetes cannot be avoided because the disease is genetic. The upside is that a juvenile diabetic can live a meaningful life through medical supervision, proper diet and exercise.

While it is hard to avoid juvenile diabetes, we can focus on the adult diabetes which we can prevent. Our digestive systems breaks down all carbohydrates in our food, mostly grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry products into glucose. Insulin in the blood stream guides the glucose into the muscle and fat cells where it is converted into energy which is used or stored. In people who are genetically susceptible, especially the overweight and inactive, the body cells start resisting the insulin action. This has led to the term ?insulin resistance? or ?pre diabetes ?.

It makes sense if we could concentrate our fight against diabetes at the insulin resistance stage, especially in Ghana/Africa. We have to educate ourselves and get to identify potential diabetics. Blood sugar level test is the sure bet for people over 40. Excessive sugar in the blood indicates the insulin is not performing its function properly.

When a person becomes more active by exercising, the muscle and fat cells become more active and start helping the insulin to absorb the glucose ? reversing the pre-diabetic stage. Exercising should go along with proper nutrition. Excessive sugar and carbohydrates overtax the pancreas which produces the insulin.

Fortunately or unfortunately, heart diseases, stroke, and diabetes have a common thread ? inactivity and poor dieting. It should not be that a few members of our society should know about the benefit of exercise. To survive as a group, we need to intensify the public information on the benefits of exercising. We have to explain to our people that simple exercises like running, walking, climbing stairs etc, go a long way into improving one?s health. ?I walk a lot at home or on the job? do not cut it. We have to set aside time for exercise. We have to make it a routine part of our daily lives especially when we hit 40 years. It is very advantageous to start early in life. The paradox of health is that those who need the most exercise are those who are sick, and the sick cannot exercise. Don?t forget inactivity causes the body cells to resist the insulin, ultimately causing diabetes.

The effect of poor dieting on diabetes is direct. There are no two ways about it. Except genetic factors ?you?re what you eat? is so true. When inactivity slows down the body?s ability to convert the sugar (carbohydrate which turns into sugar) into energy, the excess sugar floods the blood stream. More sugar through unrestrained consumption of carbohydrate especially refined carbohydrate causes the pancreas to work harder to produce insulin. The pancreas eventually overworks and breaks down leading to diabetes. Minimizing our in take of refined sugar and cutting down on most of our favorite foods, fufu, yams, gari, kenkey, white rice, potatoes (which are all loaded with carbohydrates) can help regulate blood sugar and possible control weight. Some fruits that are sweet are to be eaten in moderation also. However eating healthful carbohydrates from whole grain, beans and vegetables can promote same results.

Most people are aware of the dangers of carbohydrate and sugar on diabetes; we however have to put more emphasis and act directly to prevent acquiring diabetes by eating right, exercising and checking our blood sugar levels annually. More important, those with diabetic history in their family should check their blood sugar often especially after reaching age 40. Our best chance of fighting and wining against diabetes is a healthy lifestyle and early diagnosis.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Panford, Kwamina Mbra