Erica Sheppard McMath has seen the devastating effects of Type 2 diabetes first hand (Jeremy Raff/KQED)
The diabetes epidemic is not abstract to Erica Sheppard McMath. As a girl, she watched her uncle deteriorate each time she saw him at family events. His eyes yellowed before he went blind. Then, his foot was amputated. Finally, he died from diabetes-related complications.
“It’s like seeing someone literally fall apart limb by limb because of what they’re putting in their mouth,” said McMath.
Growing up, diabetes was everywhere. In just a few years, one aunt was blind at 32, another was on dialysis, and a 9-year-old cousin started insulin treatment.
Abel Corona of Watsonville pours piña colada from a pitcher at his home. He is more careful about his diet since he was diagnosed with diabetes. He is a student in a diabetes self-management education class at a local health clinic, Salud Para la Gente, or Health for the People. (Vinnee Tong/KQED)
An international team of researchers says it’s developed a tool that predicts the risk that a senior with type 2 diabetes will develop dementia in the next 10 years.
People with type 2 diabetes are known to be at a high risk of developing dementia – a range of problems that hinder memory, language, and problem solving. In fact, type 2 diabetics are two times more likely to develop dementia later in life than people without the disease.
According to a paper published today in the new journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, researchers have created a 20-point “risk score,” which they assign to patients based on their personal history and health issues. With each point on the scale, a person’s risk for developing dementia within 10 years grows. It’s the first risk score to be developed specifically for people with type 2 diabetes.
“[The risk score] puts these patients on the radar of clinicians to know they are at high risk,” said Rachel Whitmer, a scientist with Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. With this score in hand “the clinician could be especially attentive to looking out for memory or cognitive problems.”
For years, doctors have debated sugar’s role in causing diabetes. The prevailing medical opinion has been that eating more sugar means eating more calories, and it’s the resulting weight gain that leads to diabetes. But a major new study shows a direct link between sugar and diabetes — a link that’s independent of a person’s weight.
KQED’s Stephanie Martin interviewed one of the study’s authors, Dr. Robert Lustig from UCSF. Lustig is an expert on childhood obesity and has been vocal about the health hazards of sugar for years. His video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” has more than three million views on YouTube.
“This is the same level of proof that was available to us when we implicated cigarettes as the cause of lung cancer back in the 1960′s.”
Lustig told Martin that the study was very carefully done — researchers looked at sugar consumption in 175 countries over a decade and controlled for just about everything including obesity, poverty, and physical activity. They found that the more sugar in the food supply, the higher the rates of diabetes in that country, no matter what the obesity rates were.
In the study, sugar was 11 times stronger than total calories in explaining diabetes rates around the world. “Those countries where sugar went up showed increases in [diabetes] rates. Those countries where sugar availability went down, showed decreases in rate.” Continue reading