This Halloween was the first that I’ve had where my daughter was actually able to participate with awareness and, it’s official, I’m not a fan. In truth, I’ve never been a big fan of the event and my involvement has been minimal. Other than attending a costume party with friends, we were the house with the lights off. As a Naturopathic Doctor it just didn’t feel right to hand out sugar loaded treats to young children during the peak of cold and flu season and my interest level wasn’t high enough to put an effort into healthier alternatives (and risk the egg throwing that may come afterwards).
I didn’t see any costume this Halloween season that is scarier than a concerning health trend: diabetes. It bugs me that we as a society continue to promote trick or treating while kids (and our health care system) are suffering because of it.
Normally, when we consume food, our bodies digest the food items into their most simple forms. In the case of carbohydrates the end result is glucose. Once glucose is absorbed into the blood stream, the pancreas produces a hormone known as insulin. Insulin is the signal for cells in the body to open their doors to glucose. Our cells use glucose as energy.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin. This causes a build up of glucose in the blood. High levels of glucose in the blood stream can damage a number of body tissues, especially brain, kidney, and eyes. Type 1 diabetics require diet/lifestyle modifications as well as medication to treat their disease. The specific cause of Type 1 diabetes is unclear, however, it is not linked to lifestyle and diet factors in the same way as Type 2.
In Type 2 diabetes, the same process happens – glucose is not getting in to the cells like it should. However, the reasons are different. Type 2 diabetes is progressive and preventable. In the beginning, it is usually the result of too high blood sugar too often. The pancreas “burns out” and slows its production of insulin. The cells also become immune to the insulin message and begin to ignore the signal. The pancreas becomes overstressed and eventually stops working.
Type 2 diabetes was once considered an adult disease, hardly ever occurring in children. Today however, the number of adolescent and childhood cases of Type 2 diabetes is growing. Recent research suggests that one in every three children born in North America after 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime. Even more alarming is that in the next 15 years, it is anticipated that the global incidence of type 2 diabetes in children will increase by up to 50 percent! For a disease that was once only seen in adults, these statistics are scary.
The development of type 2 diabetes is closely related to obesity; about 95 per cent of children with type 2 diabetes are overweight at diagnosis. Given that the proportion of Canadian children who are overweight has tripled in the last 30 years (now approx. 1 in 4 kids under 17 are overweight), it is not surprising that incidence of type 2 diabetes among youth is rising. The exciting news is that Type 2 diabetes is preventable! With basic lifestyle and diet modifications, we have the ability to change these statistics.
Follow the steps below to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes:
1) Get moving. Exercise prevents obesity and helps lower blood sugar levels. Kids need exercise as much as (and maybe more than) adults. Ensure 1 hour of activity every day.
2) Get adequate Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are linked to Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. If it’s not possible to get your dose from sunshine, ask your Naturopathic Doctor on how best to supplement this essential vitamin.
3) Reduce sugar intake. Try to avoid all refined sugar (candy, pop, chocolate bars). Sweeten with applesauce and other fruits or use honey in moderation.
4) Add blood sugar regulating foods to your diet. Cinnamon sprinkled in yogurt or added to a smoothie, apple cider vinegar used in salad dressing, and blueberries on your oatmeal are helpful at reduce blood sugar levels.
5) Choose whole foods and refer to the glycemic index (a tool used to identify how quickly foods turns to sugar in your body). http://www.glycemicindex.com
I’m not saying that Halloween can’t be fun or that the occasional candy is going to cause diabetes. I just think we need to come together and make some changes – give your children and trick-or-treaters healthier options (www.nourishingmeals.com is a great resource) OR plan a fun activity (bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving, costume party) that is unrelated to food. Treats don’t always have to come in packages.
Dr. Melissa Blake is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor with a family practice at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic in Dieppe, NB. She is passionate about educating her patients so they are able to make informed decisions about their health and wellness. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors and Vice President of the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors. She can be reached at 506-857-1300 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org . She also maintains a wellness blog: http://drmblake-nd.blogspot.ca