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Sweet Life, Bitter Aftertaste Facts on Diabetes

In twenty years, every Hungarian family is most likely to have at least one diabetic member. Or more. According to a recent survey of the Hungarian Diabetic Society, nearly 700 thousand patients are diagnosed with diabetes, just as many already suffer from the condition but go undiagnosed yet, and roughly the same number of people are high at risk, or as the doctors say, in the anteroom of diabetes. It totals two million – that is every fifth Hungarian is affected by the silent killer. If that doesn't sound bad enough, take this: the number is expected to double over the next twenty years.

"90-95 percent of patients are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus, a metabolic malfunction previously associated with mature adults. Sadly though, youth are increasingly affected," says Dr. István Filiczky, physician at Dr. Rose Private Hospital. "Apart from genetic factors, our diet seems to play a crucial role behind the detrimental demographics. We eat junk, and even worse, we eat too much of it."

What brought us so far from a healthy regiment? Good question. Some say that craving sweets is a natural remnant of breastfeeding – sweet taste reminds us of mother's milk, evoking the feeling of comfort, contentment and security. Sinking your teeth into sweetmeat has never been easier in the history of humankind. The bad news, however, is that sugar happens to be highly addictive. Eating per se is a way of rewarding ourselves for the tribulations of life. Courses for horses, some like it hot, others prefer sweet, sour, salty, or high octane alcohol – to the same effect, i.e. getting a quick fix against stress. Eat, drink, relax.
Needless to say, it's all a vicious circle. After a temporary relief, one needs more to calm those ragged nerves. The diabetic are denied of even that petty little recompense. "There's an old saying that the life of a diabetic is that of a lowly civil servant: boxed into the cubicle of timely discipline," says doctor Filiczky. "It's all about counting carbs and calories."

"The real problem is that one can live with diabetes without serious symptoms for a decade or two. The majority of patients are not motivated to keep the diet, let alone get insulin treatment. When they realise that the complications of untreated, advanced diabetes are incurable and irrevocable, it is too late. It is hard to grasp when you feel alright that in twenty years your kidneys, eyesight or micro-circulation will be seriously affected by your present condition," warns the doctor.
What are the telltale symptoms to watch out for? Constant, unquenchable thirst and frequent hunger are the first warning signs. Unreasonable weight loss and frequent, intensive urination, nausea and vomiting are alarming symptoms. The patient becomes prone to infections, because of high sugar level in the tissues, ideal for the propagation of bacteria and fungi. Fruity, acetone smelling breath is the result of ketoacidosis. Forced, panting breathing and coma signal extremely unbalanced glucose metabolism.

The symptoms of diabetes are bad enough, but no way near as threatening as its complications, leading to a heavily impaired lifestyle. "Once you get to know the possible outcome of the disease, you have no doubts any more how important prevention is. Evaluating the risk of diabetes, regular medical check-ups, and exercising self-restraint in eating and drinking alcohol are paramount. A healthy lifestyle that makes up for the stress of modern life is the best way to keep diabetes at bay," concludes Dr. Filiczky.

Good to know

The biological reason behind diabetes is that most or all of the beta cells in the pancreas stop producing insulin. So far we have assumed that the cells decay, and researchers were primarily trying to induce the production of new beta cells in the body. A team of American researchers, on the other hand, realised that beta cells in an affected pancreas are not dead, they just went dormant, simply reverted to an earlier stage of cell development. It appears as if increased stress – unhealthy diet, exhaustion, obesity, etc. – would have drained them, so they call it a day and stop working for you. The recent discovery sheds new light on diabetic research, prompting scientists to find ways of somehow poking the retarded cells and convince them to start making the all-important insulin again.