Diabetes: The Latest Trending Disease


Diabetes is the rising trend in today’s healthcare system; to the chagrin and horror of its professionals. As a health expert, it’s alarming to continually be bombarded with the latest data on the subject. In 2000 the World Health Organization calculated that there were 171,000,000 people in the world living with this disease. Furthermore, they extrapolated that by 2030 (only 17 years from now!) that number would double to 366,000,000! Greece had a fairly small number of citizens with the condition in 2000 (a ‘mere’ 830,000) but by 2030 their expected to have 1,077,000 diabetic citizens! With a population of only 11.3 million, that’s a hefty percentage growth for a 30 year duration.

The rise in diabetes is certainly worthy of concern—type 2 diabetes in particular is a condition fraught with expensive medical bills and a lifetime’s worth of chronic health issues. According to a new study in The American Journal of Preventative Health Care a “person with type 2 diabetes may spend an average of nearly $85,500 to treat the disease and it’s complications over his or her lifetime”. Early detection may be a medical benefit, but the earlier the onset the higher the lifetime expense. Prevention and delay then, are the best options for protecting your bodily and fiscal wellbeing. Dr. Xiaohui Zhuo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and the author of the study) felt that this type of study has “become increasingly important given the rapid increase of the number of the incident cases in the U.S. and worldwide”. Using a simulation model Dr. Zhuo and his fellow researchers at the CDC and Triangle Research International in North Carolina examined the lifetime costs associated with type 2 diabetes. What they found was astonishing. As a male, if you are diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 44 you can expect a diabetic price tag of $124,700 (in U.S. currency!) over your lifetime. If you’re a woman costs are even higher, and you’ll be paying to the tune of $130,800 over the span of your life.

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Like any sane person, you’re probably hoping to avoid these costs (and the health issues that incur them!). If you’re Greek like me, you may assume that with such a small national numerical “showing” you don’t need to worry. After all, this isn’t the U.S.! Such an assumption is being falsified by the minute however. One need only look to the work of Dr. Aristofanis Gikas, of the Health Centre of Salamis in Salamis Greece, and his team to learn the truth. Gikas and his associates conducted a study in 2008 that was meant to “examine trends in the prevalence of self-reported diabetes between 2002 and 2006 among urban adults in Greece”. Their results were not cause for celebration: “The overall crude prevalence of diabetes increased significantly, from… (8.7%) in 2002 to… (10.3%) in 2006”. Furthermore, “The age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among adults was 8.2% (men, 8.5%; women, 7.8%) in 2002 and 9.5% (men, 9.7%; women, 9.3%) in 2006”. In total then Dr. Gikas and his team found that “These changes correspond to a total increasing rate of 16% (4% per year)”. The team concluded thusly: “Our findings show that the prevalence of diabetes is rising rapidly in the Greek population.”

Dr. Gikas and his team weren’t alone in monitoring health risks that could lead to diabetes in the Greek population. Dr. Mark Daniel and his cohort of researchers at the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at the effects of stress on glycated hemoglobin in indigenous and westernized populations of Greece. Glycated hemoglobin, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, is what you test for when you need to “show [your] average level of blood sugar (glucose) over the previous 3 months. [This test] shows how well you are controlling your diabetes”. Dr. Daniel and his team sought to see if there were any differences in glycated hemoglobin levels between “indigenous” (think traditional) Greeks and their more westernized counterparts (think immigrants and Greek migrants). It turns out there are! Those “traditional” Greeks that were suddenly exposed to “social changes, low control, and living conditions associated with westernization” had much higher levels of glycated hemoglobin than their counterparts. Essentially, the fast paced changes in environment and thus eating and social habits had a detrimental effect on the indigenous Greek Community. These sudden and jolting lifestyle alterations may well be making you sick!

If you’re fretting right now, there are ways you can assess your risks. Talking to your physician and visiting a licensed nutritionist are great options, and should be on the top of your list. At your next annual check-up I strongly urge you to request these specific tests: Fasting Blood Sugar, 2-Hour Post Prandial, Hemoglobin A1C (looking for that glycated hemoglobin again!), C Reactive Protein (CRP) and Vitamin D level testing (the sun in Greece is wonderful, but be sure to get most of your D from your food, not from potentially harmful rays!). If you desire an assessment method you can readily understand yourself, than look no farther than your oral health. Dr. M Bansal of the Department of Periodontology, Institute of Dental Studies and Technologies, CCS University in Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India and his team have found that there are “bidirectional interrelationships between diabetes and periodontal diseases”. So if your pearly whites are in poor shape, chances are other parts of you may be as well. Keep tabs on your teeth, and care for them too!

Examining your teeth isn’t the only course of action available to you. As Greeks, we should eat Greek! Traditional Greek that is—like a villager. Start by eating fresh, avoid processed and “quickie frozen meals”. Veggies should be the “main event”, and take up ½ your plate—protein should consist of fish, lamb and chicken.   Fat is good for you, if you choose your fat wisely. Choose as the ancient Greeks did, and favor fats found in nuts, olive oil and fish (35% of your calories should be unsaturated fat!). Doing so can increase your chances of combatting diseases associated with aging, and helps keep your waistline slimmer than low fat diets do. Meat needs to take a back seat as well, favor legumes and especially fish for your protein. Fish should be king, the smaller the better (small oily fish have the added bonus of all those omega-3’s and 6’s!).

Remember: Greek Gods and Goddesses get their good figures and good health from avoiding diet crazes. As a bonus, the ingredients found in the Mediterranean diet are packed with fiber which helps regulate insulin levels! Finally, eat slowly, eat with family and savor the moment! The brain takes 20 minutes to register fullness, eating on the run can cause you to overeat—never a good thing for our waistlines, budgets or health. Eat Greek, Eat well, and savor the moments you have—keep it up and you may have many more moments than most!