Medical Compass: Making changes to win the war on diabetes

Medical Compass: Making changes to win the war on diabetes

Walking for a five-minute duration every 30 minutes can reduce the risk of diabetes. Stock photo
Screening guidelines still miss 15 to 20 percent of cases

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Finally, there is good news on the diabetes front. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence, or the rate of increase in new cases, has begun to slow for the first time in 25 years (1). There was a 20 percent reduction in the rate of new cases in the six-year period ending in 2014. This should help to brighten your day. However, your optimism should be cautious; it does not mean the disease has stopped growing. It means it has potentially turned a corner in terms of the growth rate, or at least we hope. This may relate in part to the fact that we have reduced our consumption of sugary drinks like soda and orange juice.

Get up, stand up!

It may be easier than you think to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Standing and walking may be equivalent in certain circumstances for diabetes prevention. In a small, randomized control trial, the gold standard of studies, results showed that when sitting, those who either stood or walked for a five-minute duration every 30 minutes, had a substantial reduction in the risk of diabetes, compared to those who sat for long uninterrupted periods (2).

There was a postprandial, or postmeal, reduction in the rise of glucose of 34 percent in those who stood and 28 percent reduction in those who walked, both compared to those who sat for long periods continuously in the first day. The effects remained significant on the second day. A controlled diet was given to the patients. In this study, the difference in results for the standers and walkers was not statistically significant.

The participants were overweight, postmenopausal women who had prediabetes, HbA1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. The HbA1C gives an average glucose or sugar reading over three months. The researchers hypothesize that this effect of standing or walking may have to do with favorably changing the muscle physiology. So, in other words, a large effect can come from a very small but conscientious effort. This is a preliminary study, but the results are impressive.

Do prediabetes and diabetes have similar complications?

Diabetes is much more significant than prediabetes, or is it? It turns out that both stages of the disease can have substantial complications. In a study of those presenting in the emergency room with acute coronary syndrome (ACS), those who have either prediabetes or diabetes have a much poorer outcome. ACS is defined as a sudden reduction in blood flow to the heart, resulting in potentially severe events, such as heart attack or unstable angina (chest pain).

In the patients with diabetes or prediabetes, there was an increased risk of death with ACS as compared to those with normal sugars. The diabetes patients experienced an increased risk of greater than 100 percent, while those who had prediabetes had an almost 50 percent increased risk of mortality over and above the general population with ACS. Thus, both diabetes and prediabetes need to be taken seriously. Sadly, most diabetes drugs do not reduce the risk of cardiac events. And bariatric surgery, which may reduce or put diabetes in remission for five years, did not have an impact on increasing survival (3).

What do the prevention guidelines tell us?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) renders recommendations on screening for diseases. In 2015, the committee drafted new guidelines suggesting that everyone more than 45 years old should be screened, but the final guidelines settled on screening a target population of those between the ages of 40 and 70 who are overweight or obese (4). They recommend that those with abnormal glucose levels pursue intensive lifestyle modification as a first step.

This is a great improvement, as most diabetes patients are overweight or obese; however, 15 to 20 percent of diabetes patients are within the normal range for body mass index (5). So, this screening still misses a significant number of people.

Potassium’s effect

When we think of potassium, the first things that comes to mind is bananas, which do contain a significant amount of potassium, as do other plant-based foods. Those with rich amounts of potassium include dark green, leafy vegetables; almonds; avocado; beans; and raisins. We know potassium is critical for blood pressure control, but why is this important to diabetes?

In an observational study, results showed that the greater the exertion of potassium through the kidneys, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and kidney dysfunction in those with diabetes (6). There were 623 Japanese participants with normal kidney function at the start of the trial. The duration was substantial, with a mean of 11 years of follow-up. Those who had the highest quartile of urinary potassium excretion were 67 percent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event or kidney event than those in the lowest quartile. The researchers suggested that higher urinary excretion of potassium is associated with higher intake of foods rich in potassium.

Where does this leave us for the prevention of diabetes and its complications? You guessed it: lifestyle modifications, the tried and true! Lifestyle should be the cornerstone, including diet and at least mild to moderate physical activity.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) Diabetes Care. online Dec. 1, 2015. (3) JAMA Surg. online Sept. 16, 2015. (4) Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(11):861-868. (5) JAMA. 2012;308(6):581-590. (6) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. online Nov 12, 2015.

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