Adult Onset Diabetes A Growing Epidemic

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From six to twelve million people in the United States suffer from adult-onset diabetes, making it one of this country's largest health problems. Of the two types of the disorder, type II diabetes accounts for an astounding 95 percent of all cases. Worse, incidence of the disease continues to rise, and is nearing epidemic proportions. While we know that there is a genetic propensity to develop this form of diabetes, poor nutrition seems to play the major role in its precipitation.

Most of us automatically think of diabetes as a disease in which the body is unable to produce insulin—a condition which is universally true for type I (juvenile-onset) diabetes. With type II diabetes, however, the opposite frequently occurs; sometimes, the body produces more insulin than the body can use. In reality, type II diabetes is characterized as the body's inability to properly use the hormone insulin to move glucose into cells. Therefore, sugar, starches and other food cannot be adequately converted to the energy needed for daily life. The condition occurs when insulin receptors, found on the surface of cells throughout the body, stop responding to insulin, a condition called insulin resistance. Blockage of the insulin receptor prevents the hormone from escorting glucose into cells, and leads to increased insulin secretion. Since the pancreas rightly assumes that cells need more glucose and is unaware that the insulin it is sending is malfunctioning, it just keeps sending more.

Numerous complications result from type II diabetes because several major problems are occurring at once: insulin and blood-glucose levels are too high at the same time that cells are starving for glucose. As a result, the body's metabolism is seriously disrupted, leading to significantly increased free-radical generation and lipid peroxidation. This in turn damages every part of the cell, including mitochondria and its DNA, further impairing energy production.

As soon as a person develops insulin resistance, free-radical generation and lipid peroxidation begin to rise. This explains not only the enormous increase in general complications, but also the high incidence of degenerative disorders associated with diabetes. See Table 11.1 for a list of common health problems; note that every one of the complications is associated with free-radical damage. In addition, life expectancy for diabetics is reduced five to ten years.

One interesting study found that diabetics have significantly lower serum DHEA and DHEA-sulfate levels, precursors of reproductive hormones, than normal aged-matched controls.594 In fact, researchers concluded that DHEA in type II diabetes is significantly and maximally suppressed. How this ultimately affects someone with diabetes is unclear, but a deficiency would certainly alter reproductive hormones, which could explain some cases of diabetes-related impotence.

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