A glance at the health statistics in the country can prove to be shocking, even when stated mildly. India is fast moving to become the diabetes capital of the world, the number of cases increasing alarmingly from over 32 million in 2000 to 74 million in 2021 with the levels expected to touch over 124 million by 2045 unless serious lifestyle changes are initiated.
What is worse, the estimated number of people with undiagnosed diabetes stands at over 39 million as of 2021, with close to 6.5 lakh deaths attributed to diabetes related ailments for the same period. The disturbing factor here is the number of children and adolescents diagnosed with diabetes, the figures reaching over 2.29 lakhs in 2021.
The question that looms large is, what causes this alarming rise and what can be done to circumvent this.
Alterations in lifestyle
The first thing that comes into perspective is the alteration in lifestyle that has come about, be it in the quantum of physical activities indulged in, the manner in which free time is spent, the kind of diet incorporated, an almost complete sedentary workstyle and stress to mention a few. In short, diabetes as an ailment is not one that is purely genetic in nature but one that can be acquired by simply adopting a wrong lifestyle. Besides, the significant prevalence of diabetes amongst children and adolescents further points to this increasing concern of wrong lifestyle choices.
It is often believed that a half hour to 45 minutes work out in a day or alternate days is sufficient to ward off diabetes or heart ailments, without making lifestyle changes. What is sorely missed here is the impact of a sedentary lifestyle and wrong diet that can directly impact and supersede a cursory short work out done during the day or a few times in a week. Incidentally, diabetes is not an ailment that is age specific or confined to an older segment of people but can equally impact the young when wrong lifestyle choices are made.
Consistency is the key
To begin with, it is important to follow a consistent exercise schedule which circumvents the ill effects of a sedentary work schedule that is characteristic of corporate jobs. Equally important is to maintain physical activity during the whole day. Dietary factors need equal address, such as avoiding processed and packaged foods, white flour and instead leaning more towards healthy fibre rich meals. A point worth noting here is the more urban oriented prevalence of diabetes as compared to rural areas, serving as a key pointer to both lifestyle and diet as being the key triggers.
This trend is reinforced in the increasing incidence of diabetes amongst young children and adolescents, an offshoot of the highly prevalent online culture, low physical exercise and indulgence in physical sporting activities, gorging on processed and junk foods, the practices manifesting as adolescent obesity amongst a significant number.
While wrong lifestyle choices are strong triggers for the occurrence of diabetes, it is also to be noted that diabetes can occur even when right lifestyle choices have been made if the genetic composition prompts the same. It is hence a risk to assume an absence of the disease without regular health check-ups. For, even in the absence of consumption of high sugar, one can be a diabetic if the genetic composition is such. And an important point to make note is that diabetes can be or rather will be silent till it assumes a significant magnitude. Regula monitoring and management in accordance is advisable to avoid complications associated with diagnosis at a late stage.
Shattering the myths
Being a lifestyle oriented ailment, diabetes also comes with a range of myths that negates the right and timely treatment. For instance, many alternative therapies propound a full cure or reversal of diabetes. While alternative therapies and treatments can aid in controlling or managing the disease along with the right dietary tips, it is a sheer myth to assume the disease can be totally reversed.
Likewise, it is a common misunderstanding that medications taken to manage diabetes have an adverse impact on the body, especially the kidneys. In fact, the situation is the reverse, the failure to treat diabetes proving to have a definite detrimental impact on the kidneys, eyes, nerves and heart in the long run.
Similarly, it is widely assumed that a diet which shuns sweets will ensure diabetes is managed or kept at bay. While the restriction of sweets will certainly have a positive impact, the disease will still rear its head if the medications required are not taken in the optimum doses.
The primary medication used to manage diabetes, insulin, is also viewed askance by many, the common understanding being that once administered, the medication is for life. What is worse, there is a taboo attached to the intake of insulin, preventing timely and appropriate care for the patient. The result, many shun taking insulin leading to a bountiful of complications that arise, most of which could have been easily avoided.
The need of the hour is to be aware, assume responsibility towards one’s own health, adopt an active lifestyle and keep away from the myths surrounding the demon looming large on us.
(The author is Dr. Kamal Bhalla, Consultant- Internal Medicine, Sagar Hospitals, Bengaluru.)