Diabetes: what’s the latest news?

It’s not a disease to be taken lightly. Right now, an estimated 347 million people around the world are living with diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. Worse yet: by 2030, that number could be as high as 438 million people, say some sources. Currently, 9 million Canadians are affected by diabetes, and the disease is a contributing factor in an estimated 41,500 deaths each year.

The numbers sound pretty bleak, but there is hope we can turn the tide as experts develop new treatments and better understand the causes of both types of diabetes — and how to prevent them.

Here are some of the latest developments making the news.

Type 1 diabetes on the rise

You’ve likely heard that diabetes is on the rise, but usually the stories focus on Type 2 diabetes. However, experts warn that the incidence of Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as “juvenile diabetes”) is increasing too. Several countries including the U.K. and the U.S report a rise in cases of Type 1 diabetes — sometimes by as much as 3-5 per cent per year. One analysis from this past June suggests a 23 per cent increase in cases among American youth.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes — which experts link to lifestyle habits — Type 1 diabetes is thought be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body’s insulin-producing cells. Experts are still trying to figure out why, but some theories include children growing too fast and putting on too much weight (which puts too much stress on the organs), vitamin D deficiency, exposure to chemicals and pollution and children’s immune systems not functioning properly because their environment is “over sanitized”.

It will be a while before we see any answers, but experts are keeping their eye on the situation so children aren’t going undiagnosed. (For more information, read this article in the Wall Street Journal.)

New screening guidelines for Type 2 diabetes

Every few years, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care reviews the screening guidelines for certain diseases to make sure the benefits of routine screening outweigh any potential harms. After reviewing recent research, the task force issued the following revised recommendations:

– Adults who have a low to moderate risk of Type 2 diabetes do not require routine screening.

– Adults at a high risk of diabetes should be screened every 3-5 years using A1C (a simple blood test which shows your average blood glucose levels over the past three months – no fasting required).

– Adults at a very high risk of diabetes should be screened annually using the A1C.

Remember, these guidelines apply to otherwise healthy adults who haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes and who currently aren’t experiencing any symptoms.

How do you know if you’re at risk?  Experts recommend that doctors use a risk calculator first, and then determine if screening is necessary. The risk calculator is a set of criteria that includes factors such as age, family history and waist circumference. (Though not an official metric, you can test your risk with the World Diabetes Day Blue Circle Test.)

For more information about the guidelines, see the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Artificial pancreas shows promise

While consumers are salivating over the latest smart phones and tablets, experts are putting some of that same technology to work helping patients with Type 1 diabetes. This fall, researchers in Australia report being one step closer to developing an artificial pancreas — a device that can monitor blood glucose levels and administer the right dose of insulin. It’s part insulin pump and part artificial intelligence software — all made possible by today’s “smart technology”.

It’s still a work in progress, but the simulation test using a prototype showed a 90 per cent success rate administering the right amount of insulin — compared to just 60 per cent success when patients calculated their own doses. The pump could also administer insulin while people are sleeping, thereby alleviating some of the worry that parents with children who have diabetes face.

What’s next? A clinical study is in the works for 2013 to be followed by a larger clinical trial in 2014. If all goes well, researchers hope to get the device to market in 2016. (For more information, read the stories on News.com.au and Medical Xpress.)

Can black tea help prevent diabetes?

You’ve heard of the health benefits of green tea, but it may be time to show black tea a little love. A recent study published in the journal BMJ Open suggests a correlation between consuming this hot beverage and a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In a nutshell, the study analyzed data from over 50 countries and compared black tea consumption with various health indictors. Researchers noticed that

countries where people drank black tea on a regular basis had a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

However, experts are always quick to warn that “correlation does not equal causation”, and more research will be needed to understand the connection. There are a variety of other factors that could influence the data so future study could confirm or disprove these results.

In the meantime, you don’t need to add black tea to your diet — the study does not prove that low black tea consumption causes diabetes. The study also didn’t find a link between black tea consumption and any other major health indicators such as cancer and heart disease. (You can read the full study for yourself in the BMJ Open.)

So what’s next for diabetes prevention and treatment? We’ll have to wait and see — but hopefully there will be many positive news stories to come.


For more information about diabetes, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ blackred

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