Sugar and diabetes

 sugar-and-diabetesAlthough the exact causes of diabetes are still not fully understood, excessive sugar consumption is known to indirectly play a role. A high sugar intake may not by itself cause diabetes, but it can be a major contributing factor to weight gain and obesity — factors that clearly promote diabetes.

Researchers around the world have come to the conclusion that the consumption of refined sugar is detrimental to the health of people without diabetes and disastrous for those with it.

A review of 88 published studies shows a clear and consistent relationship between drinking sugary (non-diet) soft drinks and poor nutrition, increased risk for obesity — and increased risk for diabetes.

There is no denying that sugar-loaded soft drinks are having “a negative impact on health”, Dr Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, US, said in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

Results of a study of more than 91,000 women followed for 8 years provides one of the most striking links between soft drinks and health outcomes, the investigators note in the American Journal of Public Health (April 2007).

In the study, women who drank 1 or more sodas per day — an amount less than the US national average — were twice as likely as those who drank less than 1 soda per month to develop diabetes over the course of the study.

When diet soda replaced regular soda in the analysis, there was no increased risk, “suggesting that the risk was specific to sugar-sweetened soft drinks”, note the authors.

Different Results from Industry

However, there was a “remarkable difference” in results from industry-funded and non-industry-funded studies on soft drink consumption and health outcomes, Brownell said, “with the industry-funded studies much more likely to find the results favourable to industry”.

“The bigger issue here, in this arena in particular but in science in general,” Brownell said, “is how you can get a distorted view of reality if industry-funded studies are considered in the mix — and usually they are — especially, when industry uses these studies in advertising, lobbying, and in talking to the press.”

Two Different Types of Diabetes

There are 2 types of diabetes: Type 1 develops when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas — which help to regulate blood-sugar levels — have been destroyed.  Type 2 usually appears when the body no longer responds normally to its own insulin and/ or does not produce enough insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease results when the body’s system for fighting infection (the immune system) turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. A person who has Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live.

The most common form of diabetes is Type 2 diabetes. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have Type 2, according to American statistics. This form of diabetes is most often associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and certain ethnicities.

People who are overweight are particularly likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. However, Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents today.

Many Health Complications

Diabetes can cause a cascade of medical problems that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other medical problems.  In people with diabetes, their blood sugar stays too high, and sugar in those high levels is toxic. Over the years, that high blood sugar damages nerves and small and large blood vessels. Those problems can ultimately result in blindness, kidney failure, amputations, premature heart attacks and strokes.

For example:

  •  Every 30 seconds, a leg is lost to diabetes somewhere in the world.  In fact, up to 70% of all leg amputations happen to people with diabetes (Star, 13.11.05).  In Malaysia itself, there are thousands of amputation cases a year.  About 85% of the amputees are diabetics (Star, 15.10.06).
  •  About 1.2 million Malaysians could be suffering from diabetic retinopathy, a common diabetic eye disease that can lead to blindness (NST, 11.10.07).
  •  At least 57% of Malaysians suffering from kidney diseases are also diabetic patients. There were about 15,000 patients in the country seeking haemodialysis treatment, with an average of 3,000 new kidney failure cases reported annually, said Island Hospital consultant physician and nephrologist Dr Goh Huck Keen (Star, 7.4.08).

Diabetes can also have a major effect on disability and quality of life as people age.  According to a study in 2002, older women with diabetes were twice as likely as non-diabetic women to be unable to perform tasks such as walking a quarter of a mile, climbing 10 steps or cooking their own meals.

How many affected:
1 in 20 of the world’s adult population now has some form of diabetes (Phyllis A. Balch in Prescription for Dietary Wellness). Diabetes struck 246 million people worldwide in 2006 [“Insulin Delivery Systems Market analysis (2007-2010)”, RNCOS].  There were 6 diabetes deaths every minute in the world (WHO, 2004).
An estimated 25% of the world’s nations have not made any specific provision for diabetes care in national health plans although the human and economic costs of diabetes could be significantly reduced by investing in prevention, particularly early detection to avoid the onset of diabetes complications (Diabetes Australia — NSW).
In Malaysia, some 3.5 million people are diabetic (NST, 12.6.06). About 98% of diabetics here have Type 2 diabetes (Star, 3.4.07).

Find out more about sugar and diseases in the CAP Guide How Sugar Destroys Your Health

Sugar and cancer
Sugar and obesity
Why sugar subsidy should be withdrawn immediately