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Diabetes Dangers Grow
New Research Finds The Rapidly Spreading Disease Is More Threatening Than Previously Thought.

May 21st, 2004

By Ken McGrath : eCureMe Contributor
May 20th, 2004 : Physician Reviewed

As experts warn of the personal and public health disaster accompanying the alarming rise in type 2 diabetes cases, anyone who keeps up with the latest could use some good news. Unfortunately, new findings suggest the epidemic is both more widespread and more damaging than previously imagined, even as progress is being made on treatment.

Diabetes Dangers Grow

The Problem of Pre-Diabetes

It’s estimated that 18.2 million people in the U.S. currently have diabetes. But at the end of April, the problem expanded dramatically when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 41 million adult Americans have a condition known as pre-diabetes, double the previous estimate.

Pre-diabetes, as the name implies, is a primer condition: not severe in and of itself, but corrosive to overall health and a pre-cursor to full-blown diabetes and all its complications. It occurs when one’s levels of glucose, the sugar that circulates in the bloodstream and provides the body with energy, are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetic.

Previously, the medical community considered glucose levels below 110 milligrams per deciliter of blood normal. But recent research on the damaging effects of glucose levels between 100 and 110 mg/dl prompted the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to lower the bar, cautioning that anything between 100 and 125 mg/dl is pre-diabetic (anything over 125 mg/dl being fully diabetic).

The new numbers mean that as many as 40% of people aged 40 to 74 are pre-diabetic.

Without any symptoms, many pre-diabetics wouldn’t know it unless they were to get a blood glucose test. The ADA recommends that anyone who is 45 or older and overweight get the test at their next checkup, and anyone who is just over 45 should ask their doctor if a test would be appropriate. People of any age with diabetes risk factors, such as family history, obesity, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol should also be on the lookout.

The consequences are serious: pre-diabetics are at an elevated risk for heart disease, and most go onto develop full blown diabetes within ten years.

However, the situation isn’t hopeless. Experts recommend that people with pre-diabetes make an effort to lose 5 to 10% of their bodyweight. Even if that’s not a lot of weight, it can have a big, positive effect. Pre-diabetics should also aim to get at least 30 minutes of modest exercise a day. Studies have shown that 58% pre-diabetics who are proactive about their condition are successful in delaying the onset of diabetes. Some have even reversed their condition through diet and exercise.

Blood Sugar and Memory

As diabetes gets bigger, new evidence suggests it has more dire consequences than previously thought. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have linked diabetes with the mind-wasting Alzheimer’s disease.

Their study, released in the May issue of Archives of Neurology, surveyed a group of 824 priests, monks and nuns. Those who had diabetes were 65% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Previous research attempting to connect the two conditions hasn’t always pointed in the same direction, and exactly what diabetes does to predispose sufferers to the brain disease isn’t yet clear. Scientists do know, however, that diabetes can damage the blood vessels that lead to the brain and suspect that damage may play a role in promoting Alzheimer’s.

The connection between diabetes and high blood pressure has also gotten darker in recent weeks. Researchers at the Universita di Perugia in Italy have completed experiments that suggest whether a patient’s diabetes is new, or a long-term condition, those with high blood pressure who also have the disease are 2.9 to 3.6 times more likely to experience a heart attack.

Three Steps Backward, One Step Forward

It hasn’t all been bad news though. As diabetes seems to be growing in all directions, progress is being made in treatment research.

Doctors in Israel have found that cholesterol-reducing drugs have a helpful side effect: they help to delay the onset of diabetes in patients with high glucose levels. The physicians studied 303 patients with a history of heart attack and high glucose levels who were being treated with the anti-cholesterol drug bezafibrate. Those who took the drug were less likely to move from pre-diabetic to diabetic, and those who did develop the disease took a year longer, on average, to do so than those who didn’t get the drugs.

Shortly after those findings became public, Canadian researchers published their findings on another way to stave off the disease’s effects. In type 2 diabetics, the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, the compound that processes glucose. Sometimes extra insulin needs to be injected into the body in order to balance out excess sugar. Working from the University of Alberta, the group of scientists found that administering insulin to patients who have just developed diabetes might help those patients avoid more insulin therapy down the line. Among newly diagnosed patients with high blood sugar, a two to three week course of intensive insulin therapy not only lowered glucose levels, but in many cases, kept the levels low for a full year.

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