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Diabetes and the Indian Youth Tue , Nov 17

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Diabetes and the Indian Youth

  • Diabetes is a chronic disease characterised by the presence of high blood sugar levels. Sugar that we consume is normally stored in the body as energy with the help of a hormone called insulin that is produced by the pancreas. When the body is unable to produce enough insulin or is unable to use the insulin produced effectively, it can cause an uncontrolled increase of sugar in the blood — medically called hyperglycaemia.
  • In India, diabetes is a growing challenge. We rank second in the number of diabetics worldwide (2019) with 77 million people and in another five years, this number is likely to increase by up to 30%. It has been found that Southeast Asians are more prone to diabetes. The rising prevalence of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases is due to a number of factors that are rampant in young India today — sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. These factors often lead to obesity which is one of the most important risk factors responsible for late-onset diabetes, otherwise called Type 2 diabetes.
  • Until recently, Type 2 diabetes was seen primarily in adults over the age of 40 years, but now, it is also increasingly occurring in children and young adults too. While diabetes used to be a disease of only high-income countries, like the US, due to their lifestyle, there has been a rapid rise in its prevalence in low and middle-income countries, like India, for the past couple of decades. In fact, population studies show that over 95% of all diabetics in India suffer from Type 2 diabetes, the number of people with Type 1 diabetes is significantly low.

What are the health implications?

  • Over time, high blood sugar levels, if not brought under control, can damage the blood vessels, nerves, heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. Adults with diabetes are twice or even thrice as likely to suffer a heart attack or a stroke. When there are blocked blood vessels and, additionally, damaged nerves in the lower extremities, there is an increased risk of foot ulcers and infection that could eventually result in gangrene, which will require amputation. Damage to the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye results in diabetic retinopathy, which causes impaired vision and even blindness.
  • Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to qualify as Type 2 diabetes. If you are found to be prediabetic, consider it your saving grace. This is your opportunity to take corrective measures in your lifestyle choices and reverse this to normal levels. Many people often ignore prediabetes as they do not understand the implications. Once diagnosed as diabetic, the next problem that arises is uncontrolled diabetes. This happens when diabetics do not take their medication regularly, do not follow-up with their doctor regularly or continue to eat indiscriminately against medical advice. Ignoring both prediabetes and uncontrolled sugar levels can be disastrous.

So, how can we prevent diabetes?

  • It’s quite simple, actually. Following a healthy diet, daily exercise and avoiding smoking can help prevent diabetes. These are often simple lifestyle modifications.

Stay away from sugary and high-fat food:

  • When we compare what we are eating today to what our grandparents ate while growing up, there is a significant increase in salt, starch, sugar and refined fats. Pizzas, burgers, chips, soft drinks are all the rage today — fast food for our quick pace of life. But this isn’t an Indian food vs Western food debate. There are enough quick Indian snacks, like samosas and most of our favourite chaat dishes, that have the same effect on our body. You don’t need to diet or starve yourself on salads alone, you just need to eat a balanced diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, proteins, carbohydrates and good fats.

It’s just half an hour a day:

  • Half an hour is equal to one small episode of your favourite TV show. It’s probably the amount of time we spend on social media, scrolling through our feed. It’s even a part of Dominos’ promise of ‘30 minutes or free’! Yet many of us don’t take the same 30 minutes to do something good for our health. Just 30 minutes of dedicated exercise like walking, running, cycling or swimming is all it takes to ensure that we are physically fit and diabetes free.

Get yourself checked every year:

  • Annual health check-ups are always advised for adults as it is better to err on the side of caution. If you have a family history of diabetes, gestational diabetes, obesity or lead a lifestyle that could make you a diabetic, do not think twice to sign up for a health check-up. Most people who do not get regular check-ups end up missing the signs of diabetes and by the time a diagnosis is made, the condition may end up causing organ damage. Your life is in your hands, make sure you stay on top of things.

  • Preemptive lifestyle modification, timely detection and correct management can go a long way in helping people lead a normal, diabetes-free life.
  • (This article was written with valuable inputs from Dr Swamikannu M, Clinical Lead & Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine & Allied Sciences)

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