COLUMN – Beating diabetes
Barbados can beat diabetes; and that’s no myth.
Our health practitioners, armed with research, have been consistently trying to persuade us that this silent killer can be stopped in its tracks –– not by more drugs or surgery –– but by simple changes in our lifestyle.
But the message has been seemingly lost on most of us, with figures showing that 18 per cent of our population is living with Type 2 diabetes –– and that’s rising.
“It’s a big burden” says Dr Karen Bynoe, as she also reported that one in every five people in the Caribbean would die because diabetes, despite the fact that millions are spent every year to treat the non-communicable disease.
“When we actually look at the figures, approximately $US750 million per year was spent on diabetes care and
that was for four countries –– Trinidad, Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica.”
What’s even more worrying for the medical practitioner is the fact that the disease is crippling the young.
“Essentially Type 2 diabetes affected more adults; but now it is happening in the younger population.
“Once you have diabetes, more than likely you will go on to use insulin, with figures showing that 50 per cent of persons will use insulin within ten years of their diabetes diagnosis.”
Dr Bynoe however stressed that the disease could be reversed long before it reaches that stage.
It’s exactly why 25 Barbadians have embarked on a study, which has the potential to revolutionize our response to diabetes. That study, the Barbados Diabetes Reversal Study (BDRS) got under way last week after being launched last December by the owner of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, who is funding the project through his Virgin Unite.
It mirrors the 2011 diabetes research trial in Britain conducted by Professor Roy Taylor at the Newcastle University which successfully showed that Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed by adopting a short, low calorie diet, followed by good weight management.
During his study, 11 diabetic patients –– nine men and two women between 35 and 65 –– were given shakes and non-starchy vegetables eight weeks.
As a result, their blood sugar levels returned to normal, they had a reduction in sugar in the pancreas and the liver, insulin production improved and their body fat was on par with persons who did not have diabetes.
Dr Taylor is now working with Professor Nigel Unwin, Dr Charles Taylor and other experts from the University of the West Indies to determine what would be impact of such a diet on Barbadians.
“We want to evaluate the low calorie liquid meal replacement for weight loss, we want to see if this diet can work within the Caribbean population, says Dr Bynoe,” the clinical investigator of the BDRS.
The 25 participants selected for the study, which will run for about eight months to a year, range from ages 20 to 70. They have been living with diabetes for about six years.
During the first two months, the participant will be given a strict diet over an eight-week period.
“In this weight loss stage, Glucerna is the shake that we are using. We are using four shakes per day and non-starchy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, lettuce, green leafy vegetables, beets, carrots and so on. Essentially the participants are only allowed to have half a cup of these vegetables –– they can be cooked or you can blend the vegetables. You can have one cup of raw vegetables, and we have actually prepared nice recipes for the participants and herbal blends so that we can spice things up a bit.
“Three servings of the vegetables and four Glucerna shakes. Nothing else; no fish, no poultry, no bread, no pasta, no beans, no peas, no alcohol, no fruits, no dressings and margarine and so on.”
During that period the participants will have to drink at least three litres of water per day and undergo regular testing, which will examine blood pressure, glucose levels, insulin secretion and cholesterol levels.
Once that stage is completed, they will move to the weight-measuring stage, which will last for another six-months. Healthy meals will be gradually reintroduced while the same tests will be conducted.
“We want to see its [diet] effect on diabetes. What we are measuring is blood glucose level, the function of the cells and pancreas, the sensitivity of insulin and secretion, plus we want to see how control remains after this diet. We are also monitoring if diabetes can be reversed, if it can be maintained for six months following that period.
Dr Bynoe explained that the study was based on a theory tested by Dr Taylor, which involves two organs –– the liver and the pancreas.
“When we consume foods loaded with calories and refined sugar, what happens is that we end up having a lot of storage as fat in the liver and also fat in the pancreas. The pancreas is the organ that regulates the production of insulin and the liver is also an organ closely involved in glucose regulation.
“When increased levels of liver fat are deposited into your pancreas, it results in a reduced response of insulin to the breakdown of glucose and once we have that happening, you end up of having increased levels of glucose in the blood stream after meals.
She is anticipating positive outcomes, which could lead to a new approach to tackle the high incidence of diabetes.
“We are expecting that you will get a 30-pound weight loss which is about five pounds a week, we expect the diabetes to be reversed as well as improved insulin secretion. We expect that you will get reduced blood pressure because you are losing weight so some persons may be able to come off medication, we expect improved general health because of the weight loss; so automatically your risk factors are reduced.”
We anxiously await the findings.