DIABETES has reached epidemic proportions in Asia and continues to rise at an alarming rate. Surprisingly, the youth are not spared.

Barely three months after undergoing fasting blood sugar (FBS) tests, Nursing senior Aileen Vanity Navalta was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. FBS measures glucose after a patient drinks a glucose solution and fast for eight to 12 hours. Her fate was expected since her family has a genetic history of the disease. Add this to her retroactive lifestyle and bad diet. “I have a sweet tooth. Eat all I can everyday!” Navalta exclaimed.

Today, Vanity joins more than 177 million victims of diabetes worldwide as reported by World Health Organization (WHO). With India and China leading the list, having 32.7 million and 22.6 million cases of the disease, respectively, WHO estimated that by 2025, it will rise to 300 million. Likewise, the prevalence of diabetes is expected to triple in Africa, Middle East, and South-East Asia.

According to Move Against Diabetes (MAD), the disease affects more than 4 million in the country. The Department of Health (DOH) said 63 per cent are unaware they have the disease.

Why the sudden surge in statistics?

Altered lifestyle

UST Hospital’s St. Thomas Diabetes Center (STDC) senior fellow for Endocrinology and Metabolism Dr. Bien Matawaran said that the epidemic is caused by the “westernization” of the Asian lifestyle. He said that people eat more fatty foods and meat and drink more softdrinks— the so-called “coca-colanization” that causes the onset of diabetes.

STDC dietician Joan Sumpio agrees that lifestyle changes triggered diabetes cases. “We have not changed for the good. Many tend to overeat, especially fatty foods like those served in fast food chains. People are getting less exercise or none at all due to innovations like computers, escalators, and elevators,” Sumpio said.

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Dr. Matawaran said the victims are getting younger for the relative “inactive” or sedentary lifestyle that promotes weight gain and obesity. “Lesser na iyung physical activity ng mga bata dahil naglalaro na lang sila ng computer games,” Sumpio added.

Sumpio cite the lack of preventive knowledge as another factor, especially in developing countries like the Philippines. “Andiyan na nga iyung sakit, hindi pa aware iyung ibang tao, kaya mas lalong nadadagdagan imbes na naagapan. We lack health consciousness,” Sumpio said.

Warning signs

Prior to Navalta’s diagnosis, she felt she has diabetes when she experienced potential indicators such as frequent urination (polyuria) and excessive thirst (polydipsia). These typical symptoms are part of the list of warning signs Dr. Matawaran enumerated among others like frequent eating (polyphagia), itching (pruritus), weight loss, impotence, skin infections, urine-attracting ants, slow-healing cuts caused by the damage in blood vessels and impaired defense mechanisms and blurred vision due to instability in the amount of glucose in the eyes. Type 1 and Type 2 exhibit both symptoms. MAD advises that one must consult a doctor if experiencing such alarming signs.

Diabetes can cause other life-threatening diseases when not treated and managed. Complications include blindness, kidney failure, nerve disease, amputations, heart disease, and stroke.

Diet

Since everything that one takes in, except water, is converted into blood sugar, carbohydrates is 100 per cent changed to blood sugar while protein and fats yields 50 per cent and 10 per cent blood sugar, respectively. Proper diet management is vital to a diabetic.

Navalta follows certain diet restrictions. She struggles to fulfill her individualized diet because of her diabetes. She said she only eats low calorie and slightly low sugared foods.

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According to Sumpio, a newly-diagnosed diabetic must shun away from softdrinks, tetra pack juices, chocolates, cakes, and fried or high cholesterol foods. “Diabetics should eat fiber-rich foods and strictly follow the advice of their doctor, dietician, or nutritionist based on their activities,” Sumpio said.

Examples of fiber rich foods are tokwa, guava, watermelon, vegetables, cereals and fruits eaten with the skin and seeds.

Type 1 diabetics must follow a specific eating time because of their insulin requirements. Also, patients taking oral hypoglycemic tablets must monitor the time of their food intake, but not as strict with those taking insulin.

Sumpio has a general advice. “Students should avoid hanging out too much in fast food chains. Foods served there are high in fats and can make you overweight. When you are overweight and obese, you predispose yourself to have diabetes particularly Type 2.” Obesity makes one more susceptible to have DM. WHO found that in Southeast Asia, 16 per cent of Thai men and 18 per cent of women are overweight. While in the Philippines, corresponding figures are 17 per cent and 23 per cent.

Awareness

Navalta fights DM not through oral diabetic medicines but by taking Ampalaya supplements as medication. “I think it is still possible to manage diabetes through diet and exercise,” Navalta said.

MAD suggested some ways to prevent DM like maintaining one’s weight, avoiding or quitting smoking, and undergoing periodic laboratory blood and urine tests. Meanwhile, Dr. Matawaran said that the best method of prevention is education and care for diabetics. According to inq7.net, the Philippines has limited access to diabetes medications and care. Unlike in other countries, the Philippines alone do not subsidize medical expenses for diabetes.

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As DM patients continue to fight with the disease, Thomasians should be responsive in the call to the prevention of the disease. “Diabetes is a lifetime struggle, do not make your life a lifetime struggle which you will regret for the rest of your life,” Navalta said. “Be aware and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Let those people already having DM a real model for you to change your bad habits in eating and overindulge lifestyle.”

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