THE BLOG
07/29/2016 01:45 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2017

The Writing Life: Diabetes is Deadly, But It Can Be Controlled

I read a report in the New York Times the other day that writers may be particularly susceptible to maladies such as diabetes, and clogged cardio arteries. Why? Because writers - including journalists - just sit too much and don't get sufficient exercise. Add to that insufficient attention to diet.

My endocrinologist says that there are 466 million cases of Type 2 diabetes - which mostly strikes adults who lead sedentary lives.

Lancet, the authoritative medical publication, says: "China, India and the United States are among the top three countries with a high number of diabetic population. While the numbers climbed from 20.4 million in China in 1980 to 102.9 million in 2014, the rise has been equally dramatic in India from 11.9 million in 1980 to 64.5 million in India.

"Prevalence of diabetes has more than doubled for men in India and China (3.7 per cent to 9.1 percent in India and 3.5 percent to 9.9 percent in China). It has also increased by 50 percent among women in China (5.0 percent to 7.6 percent) and 80 percent among women in India (4.6 percent to 8.3 percent)."

The National Institutes of Health identifies three main kinds of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. The result of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is the same: glucose builds up in the blood, while the cells are starved of energy. Over the years, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, oftentimes leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.

NIH says that Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, develops most often in young people. However, type 1 diabetes can also develop in adults. With this form of diabetes, your body no longer makes insulin or doesn't make enough insulin because your immune system has attacked and destroyed the insulin-producing cells. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. To survive, people with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump.

Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non insulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. Although people can develop Type 2 diabetes at any age -- even during childhood -- Type 2 diabetes develops most often in middle-aged and older people.

NIH says that Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance--a condition that occurs when fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin to carry glucose into the body's cells to use for energy. As a result, the body needs more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by making more insulin. Over time, the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin when blood sugar levels increase, such as after meals. If your pancreas can no longer make enough insulin, you will need to treat your Type 2 diabetes

Finally, says NIH, there's gestational diabetes. Some women develop gestational diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin.

Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it and her child are more likely to develop diabetes later in life, according to NIH.

Some years ago, when I was working on a biography of Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy, chairman and founder of Apollo Hospitals, he would repeatedly warn that India was rapidly becoming the diabetes capital of the world.

He would point out that Indians - and South Asians in general - are quite partial to fatty food, and to sweetmeats that drip with ghee, or clarified butter. They also seem reluctant to get themselves tested for Type 2 diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation says that there are nearly 70 million Indians who suffer from Type 2 diabetes, with the number growing at 5 percent annually.

"Diabetes can be controlled," Dr. Reddy said. "But first you need to get yourself tested. If I had my way, I would make such tests compulsory for all Indian adults."