What is Diabetes? What are the effects of nutrition | Today’s children are six times more likely to contract diabetes than their parents were. Because diabetes is no longer the killer that it once was, we tend to overlook it as a serious disease. But it is serious, because it is often a factor in the development of premature coronary disease, kidney failure, or blindness. Just because we have learnt to control it’s symptoms (through insulin injections), we seem to think that it’s no longer a major public health problem, which it most certainly still is.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease in which there is a relative insulin deficiency resulting in the faulty metabolism of carbohydrate. In particular, the body finds it difficult or impossible to convert blood sugar (glucose) into usable energy. leading to an accumulation of sugar in the blood, spilling over into the urine. This is why the words diabetes mellitus’ literally mean sweet leaking.
The body normally produces the hormone insulin to undertake this metabolism, but in a diabetic person insulin production may be insufficient. Before the discovery of insulin, diabetes was considered to be invariably fatal, and most patients died within a short time of its diagnosis.
The Deadly Duo: Diabetes and Hypertension
Diabetes can be treated effectively today, although it does increase the risk of suffering other serious illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, eye disorders, gangrene and other circulatory problems, nerve and muscle problems, and an increased susceptibility to ordinary infections. Some authorities believe that diabetes-related complications are the third largest cause of death today.
One of the symptoms of the onset of diabetes is the frequent urge to urinate. Other symptoms include continuous thirst, drinking large volumes of liquids; hunger and weight loss; weakness and fatigue, itches; loose teeth: depressed sex drive; skin disorders: blurring of vision: a degeneration of the functions of the eyes, kidneys, circulation and nervous systems.
What is Diabetes? Those at Risk
It has been established that a susceptibility to diabetes can be hereditary, and obesity is strongly implicated in its development. Almost half of all adult diabetics are overweight. In Japan, almost all Sumo wrestlers become diabetic before they are thirty-five years old, and it is strongly suspected that this is induced by the amazingly high-fat diet they are given. Women are more likely to become diabetic than men, particularly between the ages of forty-five and seventy, although diabetes in men is usually a more serious condition. Non-whites are also more at risk.
Traditionally, it was supposed that diabetics should reduce their carbohydrate consumption (sugars, plant foods) and increase their protein and fat consumption (dairy food meat). However, in view of the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease. this treatment came under increasing attack, as diabetics are particularly vulnerable to high blood fat levels. It therefore seems to make more sense to restrict total fat intake, whilst reducing simple carbohydrates and boosting complex carbohydrates.
Research at Oxford confirms this. The aim was to see if what you ate had anything to do with the peaks and troughs in your blood sugar level. Two groups were compared before eating, and found to have an average of 160mg of blood sugar per 100ml of blood. One group was fed a low fibre meal, low in complex carbohydrates
quite typical of the ‘junk’ food that many people eat today. Their blood sugar level more than doubled very quickly, rising sharply to 380mg, and staying above the 300mg level for more than two hours.
The other group was given a high fibre meal, high in complex carbohydrates – such as are found in vegetables, pulses and cereals.
What is Diabetes? Complex Fibres
There was a distinctly slow rise in blood sugar to 260mg, and then a slow return to the original level. The complex fibres in the second group’s diet had slowed down and smoothed out the body’s absorption of carbohydrates, thus avoiding a sudden rush of insulin to deal with a high sugar level. In addition, some fibres – such as oat bran, and various beans such as kidney, pinto and haricot — seem to be able to lower blood cholesterol levels, which could help a diabetic to reduce the cardiovascular risk.
Since animal proteins contain large amounts of fat, it therefore seems possible that a low-meat, high-vegetable
diet would be of benefit to some patients. Existing Diabetics Benefit from High Fibre Further evidence comes from a study carried out at the Veterans Administration medical Centre in Lexington. Two diets were compared for the treatment of non-obese diabetic men, all of whom required insulin therapy. The ‘control’ diet provided twenty grams per day of plant fibre – an average Western diet.
The other diet
Included over three times as much fibre – sixty-five grams a day. and was also high in carbohydrates. The researchers found that the men on high fibre high carbohydrate diets needed seventy- three per cent less insulin therapy than those on ordinary diets – quite an amazing reduction. They also found that the average blood
pressures of those on high fibre diets were ten per cent lower than those on ordinary diets.
What is Diabetes? Can a Meat-Free Diet Help to Prevent Diabetes?
What can you do to try and prevent the disease in the first place? Recent research has produced some exciting new evidence. The School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota started a massive study of the subject in 1960, which lasted for twenty-one years and involved 25,698 adult Americans. They belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist church, a group of people we’ve already encountered as being well-known for their low meat consumption (fifty per cent of them never eat it).
The findings of this study showed that people on meat-free diets has a substantially reduced risk (forty-five per cent) of contracting diabetes compared to the population as a whole. They found that people who consumed meat ran over twice the risk of dying from a diabetes-related cause. The correlation between meat consumption and diabetes was found to be particularly strong in males. The study was carefully designed to eliminate confusion arising from confounding factors, such as over- or under-weight, other dietary habits, or amount of physical activity.
Risk of dying
By comparing deaths from diabetes among Adventists to deaths in the same age and sex-specific groups in the general U.S. population, it was possible to compare what actually happened to what should have happened if the Adventists died in the same way as the whole population.
See the way it charts out on page 129. You can see that there is, of course, a striking difference between the number of people who were expected to die (heavy shading) and the number of people who actually died (light shading). But the study went even further than this. By analysing death-certificates over the period under study, it was possible to assess the increased risk of dying from a diabetic illness that those who consumed meat ran. This is how it looks graphically:
What is Diabetes? Meat in the diet and diabetes
This shows that taking any meat in the diet increases the risk, on average, by 1.8 times. For ‘light’ meat eaters, people who only eat meat once to twice per week, the relative risk compared to a non-meat user is 1.4 times. But for heavy users – six or more times a week – the risk rises steeply to 3.8 times. It looks like a bad bet.
It seems that those who suffer from diabetes might well investigate the beneficial possibilities of a largely meat-free diet. For those who wish to reduce their susceptibility to the disease, evidence suggests that a meat-free diet could help considerably.