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Story Highlights

  • “I only have a touch of sugar,” is how many Jamaicans with diabetes describe their condition.
  • Professor Morrison, who is Co-founder and Honorary President of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica, says it is important for persons to understand that diabetes can be managed to avoid serious complications.
  • Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss or gain, fatigue, blurred vision, wounds that heal slowly, nausea, and skin infections.

“I only have a touch of sugar,” is how many Jamaicans with diabetes describe their condition.

However, leading expert in diabetes research and treatment, Professor Errol Morrison, says there is no such thing as a “touch” of diabetes.  “This is a very big misconception,” he tells JIS News.

He notes that diabetes is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness, which must be taken seriously.

In fact, he says, diabetes is the second-leading cause of death for Jamaicans under the age of 70 years.

Diabetes or diabetes mellitus describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in food for energy or to store glucose for future use.

In people, who do not have diabetes, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from the blood into the cells. However, diabetes develops when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy.

Over time, high blood glucose levels damage nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease and stroke, which are the leading cause of death among people with diabetes.

Professor Morrison tells JIS News that uncontrolled diabetes can eventually lead to other health problems as well, such as vision loss, kidney failure, and amputations.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. It occurs when the body does not produce insulin. Approximately 10 per cent of all diabetes cases are Type 1.

Type 2 diabetes, which is on the increase worldwide, is caused principally by poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. In the past three decades, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has risen dramatically in countries, more so in middle and low-income countries and is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.  The global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7 per cent in 1980 to 8.5 per cent in 2014.

WHO projects that diabetes will be the seventh-leading cause of death in 2030.

Overweight and obese people have a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those with a healthy body weight. People with a lot of visceral fat, also known as central obesity, belly fat, or abdominal obesity, are especially at risk.

Professor Morrison, who is Co-founder and Honorary President of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica, says it is important for persons to understand that diabetes can be managed to avoid serious complications.

He says they should eat a healthy diet, including reducing sugar intake and having smaller meals. He also advises persons to avoid heavy starches such as rice and yam before bedtime, and choose vegetables instead.

He also recommends regular physical activity, such as brisk 15 to 20-minute walks; using the stairs instead of the elevator; and getting off the bus before reaching your destination and walking the rest of the way.

“As you exercise, the tissues and the muscles need energy, and so they literally pull from the blood vessels the energy and the nutrition that it needs,” he explains.

He says that in addition to healthy eating and exercise, persons with more serious cases of diabetes may also need medication and insulin injection.

Professor Morrison says that diabetics should have regular check-ups in order to ensure that their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are on target, and to determine risks for heart attacks, limb or kidney damage.

An important test is the A1C blood test, which indicates the average sugar levels over a three-month period.

Persons can also test their glucose levels at home by using various test kits on the market.

Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss or gain, fatigue, blurred vision, wounds that heal slowly, nausea, and skin infections.