Alt-Health: Death by Chocolate

Today, a friend of mine was told that he has diabetes. It’s a story that is becoming all too familiar. For perspective on this creeping plague, I went browsing in the Diabetes Atlas. It was a real eye opener. I had no idea diabetes was such a global killer.

In 2015, AIDS-related illnesses killed 1.2 million people. This number seems huge until you look further up the list; in that same year, diabetes killed FIVE million. There are now an estimated 415 million adults with diabetes worldwide, along with 193 million who are undiagnosed and 318 million adults who have impaired glucose tolerance and are at high risk. If the momentum isn’t slowed, by 2040 there will be 642 million people affected.

So, what exactly IS diabetes? Simply put, it’s a metabolic disorder in which the body can’t process and store food as energy. There are three major types.


Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the immune system misreads and subsequently attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. The result is little or no insulin production.

With Type 2 diabetes, the body often still produces insulin, but it can’t trigger a response from metabolic cells. This is insulin resistance, caused when constantly elevated blood glucose levels overexpose cells, making them sluggish or inert. A third type, called gestational diabetes, occurs in pregnancy and often recedes after childbirth. There is, however, an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on.

The social and economic impact of diabetes is enormous. The cost in healthcare spending alone is between $673 billion and $1,197 billion a year worldwide. The damages it causes go far beyond high blood sugar.

Skin problems can be one of the first symptoms to herald diabetes. Diabetics are extremely susceptible to styes, boils, carbuncles and fungal infections. Wounds are slow to heal or don’t heal at all. Diabetics are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes, and 60% more likely to develop cataracts. If diabetes is not managed, complications can lead to blindness.

Nerve damage from diabetes lessens awareness of pain so even ordinary foot problems can worsen and develop serious complications. Diabetics have been known to develop gangrene and undergo amputation. And the list goes on — kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, depression — the toll that diabetes takes drifts into the death rates of myriad other serious conditions. Mismanaged blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on every system in the body, placing patients in the position of chemical imbalance, lowered immunity and exhaustion.

The sad thing is that so much of this suffering is entirely preventable. Type 2 diabetes, which is spreading the fastest, can be avoided through proper diet and exercise. People know more than ever about prevention measures they can take … yet they don’t. On the level of pure logic, it doesn’t make sense. But when it comes to sugar, people don’t use logic. Sugar is not just a physical need, it’s become an emotional need. We learn at a very early age that sweets and indulgences are a treat and reward, invoking special memories of shared pleasure. Cake is a featured event at occasions from kiddie parties to wedding celebrations. We are led toward sugar by the very language we use: “How sweet it is!” “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down;” “I love you, honey.” Lollipops are dispensed at doctor’s offices and bank teller’s windows. Halloween and Easter are overflowing cornucopias of sweets. And even if you try, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the stuff — it is slipped into our processed food, even our table salt. It’s left on our pillows at swanky hotels.

So how do we fight back? It starts with a personal decision. We can’t really trust our instincts. Our pressured lives make it too easy to fall back on caffeine and carbs to get through the day. And it goes against our natural desire for comfort to launch ourselves into exercise when all we want to do is drop. Our TV sets are not going to encourage us to get up off our butts; there’s no money in it for either the Sugar Association or the pharmaceutical industry. If you want some solid advice about building a better lifestyle, I suggest visiting the Diabetes Foundation site and perusing every other reputable medical site that features the facts. They are easy to find.You just have to look.

There are factors in our health we can’t control: ethnicity, family history of diabetes and advancing age. But we CAN control the most important risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. The cornerstone of treatment for Type 2 diabetes is a healthy diet, increased physical activity and maintenance of a normal body weight. The healing power of the human machine is awesome to behold. With effort, it’s something we can all achieve; and it doesn’t cost a thing.