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08/07/2011 / melgardener

National Diabetes Week – 10 to 16 July

Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease and the Diabetes Australia website estimates that 275 Australians develop diabetes every day. At present, nearly 1 million Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes but the total figure runs closer to 3.2 million* when you add in approximately 700,000 suspected undiagnosed, plus those with pre-diabetes. That’s a staggering 14% of Australia’s population.

Diabetes has affected my immediate and extended family significantly.

My husband’s uncle has Type 1 Diabetes and has suffered numerous health complications later in life as a result. My husband’s nephew was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was just 8. Both my father and my paternal grandfather have Type 2 Diabetes, plus we strongly suspect that my father’s sister was also a sufferer.

My grandfather is an interesting case study: a heavy smoker and drinker all his life, he led a very sedentary lifestyle, was overweight and ate too many sugary, fatty foods. Although he lived to see 85, his last years were not pleasant, mainly as a result of complications from his unmanaged
diabetes. To some degree, this can be blamed on the diet prevalent in post-war Britain together with a poor understanding of general nutritional requirements.

Before my grandfather died he had a foot amputated. One of the side-effects of diabetes is reduced circulation which, in extreme cases, can lead to gangrene. He was due to have his other food amputated but the doctors decided that the operation would almost certainly over-strain his already weak heart (coronary heart disease and heart failure are common in those suffering from diabetes). When he finally died in 1988, the cause of death was listed as “heart failure” but we know that the side-effects of his diabetes greatly contributed.

You couldn’t find a more disparate example than my father. When he found out from his doctor, five years ago, that his body was producing pre-diabetes markers, my dad took a stand. His lifestyle was already very healthy but he has taken additional steps to ensure that the worst of the side-effects can be held at bay for as long as possible. A healthy 73, he walks every day, plays tennis twice a week, watches his diet very carefully and has only recently needed to take capsule medication to stabilise his blood sugars.

My husband’s nephew was fitted with a ‘pump’ when he was 12. This is a permanent device that delivers a dose of insulin on a regular basis every day to ensure that his blood sugar levels are stable. The pump was fitted surgically and this clever little machine allows him the freedom to enjoy a
wide range of foods (in moderation) that he might not otherwise be able to try.

The pump has not only provided freedom for our nephew, but also for his parents. Prior to its installation, my sister-in-law would have to visit his school numerous times every day to check his blood sugar level and inject insulin if needed. It also limited his ability to attend extracurricular
activities such as school camps, as one of his parents would need to be present to monitor his condition.

Diabetes Australia states that the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in this country and estimates that up to 60 per cent of cases of Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented.

It is timely that, just last week, the world’s media were caught up in an extraordinary announcement from Professor Roy Taylor of the UK’s Newcastle University whose recent study appeared to indicate that Type 2 Diabetes could be reversed by following an extremely low calorie diet. Working with a group of 11 people (9 male and 2 female), Professor Taylor found that a significant drop in caloric intake seemed to prompt the body to produce more insulin. He worked on the hypothesis that “acute negative energy balance” would decrease the amount of accumulated fat in the liver and pancreas, thereby allowing the pancreas to function more normally and produce the amount of insulin required for the control of blood sugar.

Next week – 10 to 16 July – is National Diabetes Week in Australia. Events and functions will be held in every state to raise awareness of Diabetes as well as much-needed funds to continue research and support. We now know much more about diabetes, and how to treat it, than when my
grandfather was alive. Money raised from fundraising goes to research, support services and information which have all made a significant difference to the quality of life the members of my family, and others with diabetes, can enjoy.

*All figures from Diabetes Australia website.

Useful links:
Signs and symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes 

Are you at risk? 

Make a donation

Diabetes Australia State and Territory Organisations

Diabetes Australia

National Diabetes Week – What’s On

Professor Taylor’s full research study can be read here.

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