It’s a certainty intervention for persons with diabetes has come a long way. The combination of diet, drug/insulin, and exercise therapies have added years to the average lifespan of those diagnosed with the disease — some 15 to 20 million or so — and raised quality of life significantly as well.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it isn’t enough. Diabetes and complications from diabetes still end hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Hundreds of thousands more are maimed, losing sight and limb to the disease. And the numbers of people getting diabetes keeps growing, so much so the disease is now described as an epidemic.
Diabetes is one of the most studied diseases and, by all accounts, great advances are in store for the future. So what’s keeping diabetes from becoming a more universally manageable condition?
Compliance is one big issue: Too many persons with diabetes do not manage the disease as closely and carefully as they must. But lack of compliance is not the same as intransigence. Thousands of diabetes sufferers are not getting the professional help they need to get on track with a workable, comfortable and permanent management solution.
Diabetes is an insidious disease, doing irreversible damage before causing the levels of discomfort commensurate with that damage. The circulatory problems that lead to blindness and amputation do not happen with a single spike in blood sugar levels. Total kidney failure does not happen by eating one candy bar too many or misjudging a single dose of insulin.
This brings up another misunderstood — and dangerously underestimated — aspect of diabetes: Regulation is not just a matter of taking a shot of insulin. In spite of the advances in controlling insulin and blood sugar levels, we still can’t match the human body for intricacy of metabolic balance and precision. For this reason, much of the treatment for diabetes still hinges on diet and nutrition.
Until about 15 years ago, the diet part seemed all about what foods could not be eaten. And the list was long. In fact, as far as processed foods go, the list of “no-nos” was a lot longer than the list of permitted foods. The few processed foods made especially for diabetes sufferers were expensive and sometimes left a lot to be desired.
That’s all changed. The designers of the foods and ingredients that best serve persons with diabetes have made some incredible advancements. The sweeteners, starches and fibers that bring flavor, texture and healthfulness to thousands of once off-limits items enrich the lives and enhance the manageability of the disease. Keep an eye out for them in our cover story, and the other features throughout this issue. It’s a whole new world out there.
On a personal note, I’d like to say thanks to Kay Southworth, my diabetes instructor at the University of Texas. She’s not only an outstanding educator in the clinical details of diabetes, she demonstrates a near-heroic level of compassion and respect for the people living with the disease.