Know your numbers

MEDICAL epidemiologist with the ministry of health and wellness Dr Julia Rowe Porter is urging Jamaicans to seize the opportunity offered to them to stop diabetes in its tracks by screening for the disease, even in the absence of symptoms.

Speaking at the Jamaica Observer
Monday Exchange this week, she encouraged persons to “value your health before you have symptoms. The ministry’s priority is prevention and early detection because what we’re seeing with diabetes and other NCDs (non-communicable diseases) is [we] are doing a beach clean-up out there — [we are] treating them [diabetics] but upstream you have the risk factors brewing and you have so many more cases to come.”

Dr Rowe Porter was among a team of health experts discussing diabetes and its devastating effects on the population, as the ministry observes Diabetes Awareness Month in November.

The epidemiologist stressed that it is important for individuals to be aware of critical readings, such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index levels. “Those are the numbers you need to know because you’re not just preventing getting diabetes and knowing your risk factors, you’re delaying and preventing other NCDs as well, when you take charge of your health. It’s cheaper, you’re likely to prevent the expense of an illness before it gets very bad. Go when you’re well; that is an investment,” she advised.

To further reinforce the need to be abreast of the numbers those screening tests show, Dr Rowe Porter said before an individual gets diabetes, they usually present a pre-diabetic diagnosis which is a golden opportunity to slow the progression of the disease or prevent it completely if they change their lifestyle and food choices.

“Diabetes takes a long time to develop. People are catching it years after it’s at the sub-clinical level. If you are getting your check-ups yearly, you can catch it when it just starts to get high. There is an in-between called pre-diabetes, that is the point where you should say, ‘Red flag, I need to do something’ because that is the point where you can start reversing some of those physiological processes before you tip over into full diabetes,” she explained.

Meanwhile, speaking on the concept of reversing the condition, which some diabetics have attested to, professor of epidemiology and endocrinology and director of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research Marshall Tulloch Reid said there have been situations where this has been done for Type 2 diabetes, but in the early stages of the metabolic disease.

“One of the thing the body produces when it metabolises food is fatty acids, and these enter the circulation and block the insulin receptors, and they don’t respond to insulin that well, what they would do is put you on a near starvation diet, forcing your body to use the fat a lot more for energy, sort of like a cleaning [or] reset. This was done very early in the diabetes process, [such] as within the first five years, the earlier the better, but up to five years you see this kind of reversal taking place. They could reset your body to the point where you come off your medication,” he explained.

However, the expert said while this concept of reversal is interesting, if people return to the same eating habits, this would undo any gains made, and see individuals returning to insulin treatments. “So its not a cure — we usually use the word remission,” he pointed out.

Diabetes Awareness Month is observed globally in November, and World Diabetes Day on November 14, to bring awareness to the condition.

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