diabetic, me? It might be the fifth most common medical condition diagnosed in Singapore but diabetes still remains a mystery to many. Here are the five biggest misconceptions people have about the disease. By NIRMALA SIVANATHAN
ccording to the Diabetic Society of Singapore, 11 per cent of Singaporean adults today have diabetes — a figure that the Ministry of Health expects to rise as our population ages. The disease is a primary cause of premature death and ill health. It is linked with the increased risk of heart disease, stroke and life-‐threatening infections. It is even recognised as one of the top 10 causes of death in Singapore. And yet, for all the facts surrounding the disease, many Singaporeans still think they are “safe” from getting diabetes.
WELLNESS FOR ALL
Myth “I EXERCISE A LOT SO
I AM NOT AT RISK OF GETTING DIABETES”
It is still possible for someone who exercises regularly to get diabetes as there are other risk factors for getting the disease besides a sedentary lifestyle, says Director of the Health Promotion Board (HPB’s) Healthy Ageing Division, Dr Shyamala Thilagaratnam. These risk factors include your age, conditions such as high blood pressure, and whether you have first-‐degree relatives with diabetes. A first-‐ degree relative can be your parent, sibling or child.
But this doesn’t mean that you should view your prospects of getting diabetes as inevitable and give up on exercise. As Dr Shyamala is quick to add, “While there is nothing you can do about your age or relatives with diabetes, you can help reduce your risk of diabetes by being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.”
WHAT EXACTLY IS DIABETES? Simply put, it is a medical condition characterised by higher than normal blood glucose (sugar) levels. This is caused when the body is unable to use the glucose in the blood for energy because of insufficient or ineffective insulin. Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, constant hunger, constant tiredness, weight loss despite eating well, and excessive urination. A person with diabetes might also find that his or her cuts or wounds do not heal as well as they used to.
“I don’t eat sweet things, so I won’t get diabetes”
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You rarely indulge in dessert, you like your kopi black and bitter, and you think sweets are for children, so you think you’ll never get diabetes. Well, you shouldn’t be so sure. “There is no direct evidence to show that the consumption of sugar causes diabetes,” Dr Shyamala says. This is because the sugar in your bloodstream is not the same as the refined white sugar you consume. In fact, pretty much everything you eat — from white rice to fruit juice, corn flakes and cream crackers — is
converted into glucose (or sugar) by your body. Even alcoholic beverages such as beer, while not sweet in the traditional sense, are full of sugar. What links diet and diabetes, however, is obesity. When you consume too much food — especially food high in sugar or refined carbohydrates — you are taking in calories your body doesn’t need, which will be converted into fat. “Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, this extra weight can increase your risk of getting diabetes,” says Dr Shyamala.
“DIABETES IS AN OLD PERSON’S DISEASE”
Well, this really depends on what you define as “old” — however, people as young as 40 are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr Shyamala. And with the average lifespan of Singaporeans standing at 79 years for men and 84 for women, that’s a long time to be saddled with a condition such as diabetes. What’s more, reports released by the World Health Organisation show that increasingly sedentary lifestyles and increasing obesity have resulted in more children and adolescents developing Type 2 diabetes. So if you have a family history of diabetes or any of the other risk factors for diabetes, talk to your family doctor about whether you should start screening for diabetes at an earlier age.
WITH THE AVERAGE LIFESPAN OF SINGAPOREANS STANDING AT 79 YEARS FOR MEN AND 84 FOR WOMEN, THAT’S A LONG TIME TO BE SADDLED WITH A CONDITION SUCH AS DIABETES.
WELLNESS FOR ALL
“Diabetes won’t kill you”
According to the Diabetic Society of Singapore, diabetes — if not managed well — can deteriorate steadily and lead to life threatening complications such as stroke, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease and limb amputation. Uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to high blood glucose (hyperglycaemia) and low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia). Both, according to the HPB, can cause a diabetic to become very sick and can lead to a coma if left unchecked. In fact, the HPB recommends that you visit your family doctor for a fasting blood glucose test if you have any of the risk factors for getting diabetes. This will help determine if you have diabetes or are at the pre-‐diabetes stage, and put you on the path towards taking preventative action.
FAT Myth “ONLY PEOPLE GET
Being overweight is just one of the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes. According to the US National Library of Medicine, other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age can also play a part. So don’t be fooled — it’s not just overweight people who can get diabetes. In fact, many overweight people never develop diabetes while many diabetics have a normal weight or are only slightly overweight!
DON’T BE FOOLED — IT’S NOT JUST OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE WHO CAN GET DIABETES.
BREAKING DOWN DIABETES You might have heard that there are several different types of diabetes but did you know who these affect and why? We break down the three major forms of diabetes.
ineffective due to insulin resistance. It occurs more often in people over 40, particularly those who are overweight or physically inactive, but medical professionals have noticed an increasing number of young adults and children with Type 2 diabetes in recent years. The condition can be controlled with proper diet, exercise and oral medication.
PHOTOS: Getty Images,Corbis Images
TYPE 1 DIABETES, also called juvenile onset diabetes mellitus, is usually diagnosed in children or young adults. It is caused when the body attacks its own pancreas and stops it from producing insulin. Patients with Type 1 diabetes need insulin for GESTATIONAL DIABETES MELLITUS is survival, and complications are sudden and diabetes that is first diagnosed during life-threatening. pregnancy. Caused by pregnancy hormones that can block insulin from TYPE 2 DIABETES is the more common form doing its job, it occurs in about 2 to 5 per of diabetes and is also known as adult cent of all pregnancies. It requires onset diabetes mellitus. In this case, specialist obstetric care to reduce the patients can still produce insulin — but the risk of serious complications to the insulin produced is insufficient or unborn baby.