Tom Hanks shines spotlight on diabetes
Tom Hanks' disclosure that he has type 2 diabetes spotlights one of this nation's most troubling health dilemmas: a national diabetes epidemic.
Hanks, 57, revealed that he has type 2 diabetes on Monday night's Late Show With David Letterman. He says he has been battling high blood sugar numbers since he was 36. Other celebrities, including Sherri Shepherd, Halle Berry, Paula Deen, Patti LaBelle and Drew Carey, also have been diagnosed with the disease.
"There's no question that the growth of diabetes both in the United States and around the world is at epidemic proportions," says Robert Ratner, the chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.
Although Ratner doesn't know Hanks' case, he says type 2 diabetes tends to run in families.
The current environment that promotes a sedentary lifestyle and is rich in calorie-dense foods "has truly conspired against us when it comes to diabetes," he says.
"The big driver of type 2 diabetes is weight gain," says obesity researcher Donna Ryan, professor emeritus of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
In diabetes, the body does not make enough of the hormone insulin, or it doesn't use it properly. Insulin helps glucose (sugar) get into cells, where it is used for energy. If there's an insulin problem, sugar builds up in the blood, damaging nerves and blood vessels. There are two major forms: type 1 and type 2, but the latter accounts for 90% to 95% of cases.
Nearly 26 million children and adults in the USA have diabetes, and about 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing the disease, government data show. People who are obese, older or have a family history of diabetes, as well as African Americans, Mexican Americans and American Indians, are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes may lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputations and blindness.
"The simple fact is our health care system and our economy are being overwhelmed by diabetes," Ratner says. "When we look at the number of individuals and the cost of their care, we see it's not a sustainable situation."
The number of people with prediabetes is "overwhelming," Ratner says, "but we can identify these individuals, and we can intervene to delay or prevent them from developing the disease." He points to the National Diabetes Prevention Program (cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention), which shows that an intensive lifestyle intervention (weight loss of 5% to 7%, regular physical activity, healthier diet) can reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Adds Ryan: "You don't have to get to an ideal weight to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You just have to get to a healthier weight, which may be a loss of about 12 to 20 pounds."
Physical activity is important, because it improves the body's ability to utilize insulin, so a regular exercise program makes a person more insulin-sensitive -- their body responds to the insulin they make more effectively, Ratner says.
There is no single diet that is recommended to people with diabetes, he says. Patients usually are advised to decrease their calorie intake, minimize their intake of calorie-dense saturated (animal) fats and eat complex carbohydrates (vegetables and other fiber-rich foods) instead of simple carbohydrates (sugar, candy, cake, cookies), he says.
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