One of the primary motivators for Kevin and Nicola’s proposed ‘reform’ of the health system is the explosion in health costs predicted in the Intergenerational Report released in February.
Kevin explains “If we do not change the system, the state and territory budgets will be overwhelmed entirely by health costs over the next 20 or 30 years to the point that their ability to do anything else would be removed,” and Nicola backs him up by pointing out that the direct cost of treating diabetes alone is projected to increase 436 percent (!) from $1.6 billion to $8.6 billion by 2032-33.
According to Diabetes Australia, those numbers are likely to be a vast underestimate. They reckon almost 15 percent of the population already suffer from diabetes (or pre-diabetes). Worse still, those numbers are going in only one direction – up, big time – because according to them, “there is no cure for diabetes”.
Diabetes is currently the sixth biggest killer of Australians, but headed for number one with a bullet. And before it kills us (and this is why Kevin and Nicola are worried), we will each probably consume hundreds of thousands of public health dollars (primarily as drugs) being treated (and not being cured).
There are three main types of diabetes (Type I, Type II and Gestational) and they are all on the increase, but the one everyone is worried about (when it comes to health dollars) is Type II Diabetes.
Type II Diabetes is variously called Non-insulin Dependent, Lifestyle or (less and less now) Late Onset, Diabetes and it currently accounts for around 95 percent of all diabetes diagnosed in Australia. It’s been a national health priority since 1996. Since then, the prevalence of the disease has doubled, so whatever we’ve been doing it aint been working too well so far.
Type II Diabetes is the end stage of a disease which starts out as failure of our ability to process carbohydrates (about 60 percent of our food). Our bodies convert most carbohydrates to glucose. In healthy people that glucose is pumped out to the cells that need energy via our bloodstream. Cells that need energy, signal their desires by moving glucose receptors to the cell surface (kinda like hanging out the “this room needs servicing” sign in a hotel).
In people who ultimately become (Type II) diabetic, something goes wrong with the “room needs servicing sign”. The receptors never get to the cell surface (or if they do, it’s in smaller numbers). The result is that the glucose goes sailing by. The maid doesn’t know the room needs her.
Because the glucose doesn’t get used by the cells (or not as many of them), it stays in the bloodstream longer and the result is a longer than normal high blood sugar concentration. People in this early stage fail 2-hour after-meal blood sugar tests but do ok on fasting blood sugar tests. If they’ve been fasting (haven’t eaten) for a while then blood sugar will have returned to normal. These people are often diagnosed as being “pre-diabetic”.
We can be pre-diabetic for decades. Eventually though, we lose the ability to clear the glucose at all and that’s when we officially have Type II Diabetes. It’s the point where we can no longer get our blood sugar levels back to normal even after fasting.
Doctors will tell you that there are all sorts of risk factors associated with Type II Diabetes. If you’ve got a high BMI, thick waist or high total body fat (all different ways of saying you’re fat), you’re in the gun. But one symptom has a much higher correlation than any of those, yet strangely it is never spoken of (probably because it’s a tad bit hard to measure). The one thing that almost always means you are on your way to Type II Diabetes is the amount of fat stored in your muscles (whether you look fat or not).
That accumulated fat in the muscles is an indication of persistent high levels of circulating fat. And it has been shown to directly interfere with the ability of cells (that need energy) to get the receptors to the cell surface. It’s like some fat guy is standing between you and the door when you want to hang out the ‘room needs a service’ sign.
So if you want to do some experiments on diabetic rats and you don’t have any handy, you can give normal rats diabetes by increasing the amount of circulating fat in their bloodstream. And the best way to do that is to feed the rats sugar. The fructose half of sugar (sugar is a 50/50 mix of glucose and fructose) is converted directly to the kinds of fats necessary to create diabetes as soon as it is eaten.
The latest in a line of studies that have tried this on humans got the expected results last year. The researchers at the University of California fed volunteers diets supplemented with fructose (at around twice the level consumed by the average American). The result was a 20 percent decrease in the effectiveness of clearing the glucose out of the bloodstream – step one on the Type II Diabetes treadmill. Other recent studies have shown that when carbohydrates (including sugar) are pulled out of the diet, Type II Diabetes symptoms are reversed.
The Californian study lasted just 10 weeks (and clearly longer term studies are needed) but red flags are waving all over the place. Sugar consumption creates exactly the kind of fat needed to turn us all into Type II Diabetics. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that as our per person sugar consumption soars past 1 kg per week, Type II Diabetics are being minted at the rate of 275 per day (and counting).
But you won’t find any warnings about not eating fructose on the Diabetes Australia website. In the face of a deadly epidemic (accelerating at epic proportions) why are we not being told what the research says about sugar? Why is the government response restricted to rearranging the funding deckchairs on the titanic? And why do our healthy eating guidelines persist in advising that there’s nothing wrong with a diet that’s 20 percent sugar?
Unlike death and taxes, Type II Diabetes is not inevitable. It can be stamped out and it can probably be done easily by eliminating added fructose (sugar) from our diet. But first, those we trust with our health need to stop fighting about who pays for the amputation of our gangrenous limbs and start reading the research on sugar.