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Anatomy of a Killer

beating diabetes and the obesity epidemic

Diabetes is a disease of the metabolism: Something goes wrong with the way the body processes food. When a healthy person eats carbohydrates (like bread, potatoes or cookies), they get broken down into sugar and sent into the bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, then acts as a delivery system, moving the sugar from your blood into your cells, where it is burned for fuel. When diabetes strikes, the pancreas either stops making insulin or the body cells become insulin-resistant and "refuse delivery" of all or most of the sugar (type II). Either way, sugar builds up in the blood, the body doesn't get enough fuel, and complications result.

Type II diabetes is on the rise. "There's been a sharp increase in the number of cases in recent years. In fact, it's rising to epidemic proportions, and we can expect the number to double in 10 years. A review of the risk factors and a quick look at the American population tells us why.

1) Obesity: Americans (adults and children) are getting fatter.

2) Lack of exercise: We're living increasingly sedentary lives.

3) Age: As baby boomers get older, the number of Americans over 40--statistically at greater risk--increases.

4) Genetics: Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans have a higher incidence of the disease (12 to 15 percent, 10.8 percent and 30 percent respectively, compared with 5 to 6 percent among Caucasians), and these segments of the population are growing.

Fortunately, as dire as diabetes is, it is not a death sentence. The keys to managing it are a healthful sugar free diet, regular exercise and stress management. What's more, you can use these same tools to reduce your risk of developing the disease in the first place.


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