Threat of diabetes looms large for Nova Scotians
'I know that down the road that I should be more worried about things, and that road is getting a lot shorter'
A spike in the number of Type 2 diabetes diagnoses has the World Health Organization calling for more attention to the chronic disease, which could become a big problem for Nova Scotia's population.
Type 2 diabetes has direct links to diet and lifestyle. That could be a significant issue in Nova Scotia, where 62 per cent of the population over 18 is identified as being overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada.
Over the last three decades, more than 300 million people around the world have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
"What seems to be happening is that insulin, the hormone that helps the sugar get from the bloodstream into our cells, is still there but isn't working," said Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
"It's almost as if the cell is saying that there's already too much energy stored in the body. That causes a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream."
Healthy lifestyle lowers risk
According to Hux, some individuals are genetically predisposed to developing Type 2 diabetes and certain ethnic groups are more at risk.
"What we do know, for those who carry that high genetic risk, is that a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing they can do to reduce the risk of fully developing the disease," Hux told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.
Rob Beck is 69-years-old and has been living with Type 2 diabetes for the past 15 years.
"I had been feeling really ill for quite a while," said Beck. "I was losing weight and I wasn't sleeping well."
Two years after Beck quit smoking and managed to get his weight under control, he began noticing the telltale signs of the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
"I remember sitting at my desk at home, just guzzling ice water and all night I'd be going to the bathroom."
Struggle to stay healthy
Paul Doucette's father is diabetic. While Doucette doesn't have the condition, he admits he struggles with healthy eating.
"I'm not weight conscious. I'm fine with my body image, but I know that down the road that I should be more worried about things, and that road is getting a lot shorter," he said.
"It's like my student loans. I see it as this thing that hangs over my head forever. Like, how do I manage that?"
Disease not taken seriously enough
That kind of attitude is part of the problem, according to Hux.
"One of the challenges of Type 2 diabetes is that people tend not to take it seriously," she said. "Especially if they're diagnosed early and don't require medication at the time of their diagnosis. They might not realize the downstream risks.
"The real problems of diabetes are the long-term complications. If that blood sugar level is high over months and years, many organs in the body become damaged by that. This leads to things like blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage leading to amputation and increased risk of heart attack and stroke."
With files from Mainstreet