A century ago the greatest health risks came from infections. Tuberculosis, malaria, bacterial and viral diseases killed old and young alike. We have largely conquered infectious diseases with antibiotics, vaccinations and hygiene.
Today, we are facing a new medical challenge: diseases of “over-eating” and the major disease is Diabetes of Adult Onset. (There is another diabetes, Childhood Onset, which is an Auto Immune Disease. It has nothing to do with obesity or diet.)
Diabetes is the new pandemic of the world. We are seeing it across the globe and in places where it was almost totally unknown in the past.
STARCH MOLECULE–EACH CIRCLE IS GLUCOSE–SUGAR
If we look closely, we see that there is a very strong genetic component to this disease. Places on the earth where starvation was common, developed people with very little resistance to this disease. Africa and Asia, throughout history, suffered from very severe shortages of food. As a consequence, the genes which arose in these areas had little resistance to diabetes.
Wherever we look today, people with these genes can get diabetes very easily. In addition, they may also suffer from hypertension.
In Africa and Asia today, young people are developing diabetes; whereas, in Europe, for the time being, only the elderly are afflicted. As the obesity pandemic increases, that difference will lessen.
The concept of diet may be simplified into quantity of calories and quality of calories.
In Africa and Asia, carbohydrates, in particular, rice or root starches, were and are the primary source of calories. The entire culture of these regions for the last six thousand years has been devoted to using just a few plants as the major source of calories.
Wherever we look in Asia we can see the landscape changed by the inhabitants to grow rice. Rice paddies are everywhere.
In Africa root starches are both wild and part of the agriculture. Rice is also widely grown. Today, the quantity of starch eaten is immense.
Technological progress in grain production is the culprit for the availability of these large quantities of starch at very low prices. The starch molecule is a long string of glucose molecules.
The human eating rice or root starch is essentially eating glucose or sugar. When the glucose from the starch hits the blood stream the pancreas is forced into distributing insulin. At first, the response from the pancreas is sufficient. But, when the body is obese, the number of cells requiring insulin are so many that there is an insufficient number of insulin molecules available.
Then we see the glucose rising in the blood stream. This is the beginning of Adult Onset Diabetes.
ADULT ONSET DIABETES
Adult Onset Diabetes is a complex disease. However, essentially it is an inability of the body to pass Glucose into the cells where it is used for energy.
Normally, the hormone Insulin is the key that opens the cell doors to glucose. This key, insulin, in those afflicted with diabetes is either insufficiently produced in the Pancreas, or the cell walls refuse entrance to the glucose and insulin combination.
This phenomenon is known as Insulin Resistance. To this very day, there is no cure for this condition. Weight loss improves the situation, but does not entirely eliminate it.
We can see that the avoidance of carbohydrates is the key to treating Diabetes. Since rice and starch roots are the common form of carbohydrates in Asia and Africa, these must be consumed in very small quantities. We do need glucose for energy, but other vegetables can be used where the glucose is available slowly. These vegetables are known as “Complex Carbohydrates.”
The next step is weight reduction. Weight reduction is almost impossible to achieve. In particular, this is true with uneducated or poorly educated people. Since eating is such a pleasurable activity it becomes almost impossible to stop eating that quantity of food that is readily available. The result is that practically no one loses enough weight to reach a normal level.
When weight loss accompanied by exercise does not work, only insulin and other medications can keep the blood sugar within normal ranges. Unfortunately, not even medications have a good result except in the minority of cases.
Adult Onset Diabetes may have a cure, but it lies in the distant future.