WORLD DIABETES DAY
It is estimated that the total number of people living with diabetes in Ireland is over 225,000. 14th November is World Diabetes day, which aims to educate the public about this condition.
There are two main types of Diabetes mellitus: Type-1 Diabetes, which most commonly occurs during childhood, is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, sugar from the bloodstream cannot be absorbed by body cells, and the excess sugar accumulates in the bloodstream, causing serious complications. Symptoms usually develop very quickly, and unless regular insulin injections are given, diabetic ketoacidosis develops which can lead to coma and death. In individuals undergoing treatment for type-1 diabetes, taking too much insulin, not eating regularly, or over-exercising may lead to hypogycaemia (low blood sugar), which can be equally dangerous.
Type-2 Diabetes, which is much more common, is a condition in which the cells do not respond to insulin. ‘Insulin resistance’ tends to develop very slowly over a number of years before the blood sugar level becomes high enough for a diagnosis of type-2 diabetes. Unlike type-1 diabetes, it rarely causes acute ketoacidosis; however, severe long-term complications can result from untreated type-2 diabetes. The main chronic complications of diabetes are caused by damage to blood vessels by elevated blood sugar. This can lead to serious problems such as cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, erectile dysfunction and nerve damage.
Hormonal imbalances play an important role in the development of type-2 diabetes. For example, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and increased secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone) can all trigger insulin resistance. Central obesity (fat distributed mainly around the waist) is also a predisposing factor for type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes most commonly occurs in older people, but in recent times it has started to affect children and adolescents, probably due to the increased prevalence of childhood obesity. Genetic factors also contribute to an individual’s risk of developing both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.
As is so often the case, prevention and early detection are the best approach to managing this disease. The main warning signs of diabetes include: Frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased hunger, a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet, erectile dysfunction, slow-healing wounds, and frequent infections.
Type-1 diabetes must be treated with regular insulin injections. However, managing the diet also plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and preventing complications. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with nutrition and herbal medicine alone, however, more advanced cases may also require treatment with drugs such as metformin, or insulin to control blood sugar levels. It is also important for diabetic patients to consult a qualified podiatrist (foot care specialist), since diabetic nerve damage may cause numbness of the feet and impaired wound healing, which may lead to gangrene in severe cases.
In many cases, the risk of type-2 diabetes can be reduced with diet and exercise. Herbal medicine can also help to prevent diabetes in susceptible individuals, and help to balance blood sugar levels and prevent complications in those who have already developed the disease. Medical herbalists provide individually tailored advice about preventing and managing diabetes with nutrition, and choose specific combinations of herbs to suit the individual. For those taking orthodox medication, the herbal prescription is specifically designed not to interact with other treatments.