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Eating Our Way to a New Epidemic

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A surge in obesity in North America and a sedentary lifestyle are two of the major factors contributing to this rising epidemic. People are literally poisoning themselves by eating excessive amounts of all the wrong foods. Products such as refined, sugared, processed and caffeinated carbohydrates are causing the blood sugar of many to become dangerously uncontrollable.

Diabetes affects the lives of 130 million people around the world, including over two million Canadians. It is the third leading cause of death in the US and the leading cause of adult blindness, amputations and kidney failure.

Presently, one out of every seven health-care dollars in the US is used to treat diabetes. (In Canada, the economic cost annually for diabetes including research, treatment and detection is approximately $9 billion and rising.) The number of people diagnosed with this disease, the dollars spent on treatment, various medications and research is nothing short of shocking. Why is this disease growing at such alarming rates?

A surge in obesity in North America and a sedentary lifestyle are two of the major factors contributing to this rising epidemic. People are literally poisoning themselves by eating excessive amounts of all the wrong foods. Products such as refined, sugared, processed and caffeinated carbohydrates are causing the blood sugar of many to become dangerously uncontrollable. Instead of weight loss, exercise and proper nutrition, millions have resorted to "popping pills" to control blood sugar and insulin levels. This is not the solution. A dramatic shift must occur in our health-care system to focus on prevention of diabetes through nutrition and education rather than the treatment of symptoms through potentially risky medications.

Diabetes is the body's inability to utilize its main source of fuel, a sugar called glucose. In a normal environment, the body will secrete the hormone insulin to transport glucose into the cells for proper absorption. In individuals suffering from diabetes, insulin is either absent, present in insufficient amounts or ineffective. Without proper insulin secretion, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can occur, resulting in thirst, frequent urination, weakness, lack of ability to concentrate, loss of coordination and blurred vision. In severe cases of hyperglycemia, loss of consciousness is possible.

An Immune Disorder

Diabetes is classified into two categories, Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is an immune-mediated disorder where little to no insulin is produced. Although diet and exercise can be helpful in reducing the levels of medication required, insulin injections are a daily reality for these individuals.

Ninety per cent of diabetes is Type II, which goes hand in hand with obesity. Type II diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although it's now occurring in our younger generation, a phenomenon not seen 10 to 15 years ago. Type II diabetics produce variable and sometimes even normal amounts of insulin, but have become resistant to it.

The current protocol recommended by the Canadian Diabetes Association to treat Type I diabetes involves nutritional counselling, lifestyle changes and oral medication. If all else fails, daily insulin injections are used as a last resort.

The predicament lies in the fact that doctors have not been properly warned of the adverse side effects of these medications and the drugs themselves are not properly labelled.

Symptoms are Medicated

The medical community continues to sink millions of dollars into new forms of treatments and medications for diabetes. All over the world, symptoms are being medicated to control blood sugar levels and tummy tucks, liposuction and diet pills are being used to combat obesity. With 50 percent of our population now considered to be obese, it's obvious that this "quick-fix" approach is not working.

The surge of diabetes we are experiencing today is largely due to poor quality, processed and refined carbohydrate products that are crammed onto our supermarket shelves. Portions are bigger, fast food is quicker and coffee houses are busier than ever before. All of these foods are causing a rapid surge in our blood glucose response level. It's only understandable that our bodies are developing a resistance to their own insulin. There is a profound lack of nutritional knowledge in western culture and it's up to our government, local associations and health care practitioners to take initiative in informing the public on how to eat to improve health. It's also up to consumers to start reading labels to become informed on what's in the food they are feeding themselves and their families.

If you do suffer from diabetes, heart disease, obesity or are looking to improve your diet, speak to a knowledgeable health care practitioner about proper nutrition, exercise and if necessary, weight loss. Increasing fibre, decreasing saturated fats and avoiding processed carbohydrates are only a few of the integral steps that can make a positive health change. Many diabetics are able to control their blood glucose levels through diet alone.

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