Modern life is plagued by symptomatic disorders, diabetes, is chief among them. For many centuries, it wasn’t even recognised as a disease. It was called the sugar sickness, and was treated in ways that ranged from the devastating to the downright bizarre. It was only acknowledged as a disorder in the late 19th to the early 20th century, and was treated in the ‘right’ way since then.
From leeches, to mystic herbs and even ‘rebirthing’ therapies have been propounded over the millennia, to treat diabetes, but considering that there’s no way to cure the ailment, the best a diabetic can hope to accomplish, is a good level of glucose control, in order to lead a semblance of a normal life.
There are in essence 3 types of diabetes
1. Type 1 or early onset diabetes: This begins relatively early in life, and is predominantly because the pancreas are unable to produce requisite amount of insulin, in order to metabolise sugars effectively.
2. Type 2 or adult onset diabetes: This is more a lifestyle disorder and is diagnosed in adults with a sedentary lifestyle and little or no exercise.
3. Gestational diabetes: This is extremely prevalent in pregnant women, where hormonal changes can lead to the onset of diabetes, in a woman with previously no history of diabetes.
Each one of these three types of diabetes is quite a scary experience. Of all these types though, type 2 diabetes is the most commonly diagnosed. Diabetes can often be called the sign of our times, quite simply because far too many people are being diagnosed with it. Inactivity, stress, unreasonable work timings and the overall pace of life are all contributory factors to the rise, propagation and spread of the diabetes pandemic. The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020, close to 100 million adults in India, will have diabetes. The numbers in America and Europe too do not make for good reading.
Once diagnosed with diabetes, your best bet is to regularly monitor your glucose, exercise and diet control, in conjunction with medication for a more or less normal life. Home blood glucose monitoring is of extreme importance, considering that it is the only way to tell whether a particular therapy that you’re on is working. Any and all improvements need to be tracked and made a part of your permanent medical records, as a ready reckoner for both your physician and yourself.
Diabetes isn’t the end of the world and as such must not be viewed like that. There are however, a few lifestyle compromises that will have to be undertaken, in order for the disorder to be controlled and managed to such an extent that it doesn’t affect your day to day functioning to a great extent.
The history of diabetes testing
The history of diabetes is quite literally a bittersweet one. A record of diabetes has been present from the times of the Ancient Egyptians, when in BC 1552, physician Hesy-Ra noted that frequent urination is one of the symptoms of the disorder. In BC 250, Apollonius of Memphis, is credited with coining the word ‘diabetes’ which meant, siphoning sufferers of more liquid than they could consume. Across the ancient world, from the Egyptians. to the Indians, and from the Carthaginians to the Macedons, every civilization of note has mentioned, or recorded diabetes, in one form or another.
For thousands of years, there existed a complete ignorance about the treatment of diabetes, or even the way in which, it ought to have been controlled. Children with early onset diabetes perished within a few weeks of the diagnosis, whereas adults with diabetic symptoms had to deal with it, like it was a chronic illness. Prescriptions for treating the disease ranged from the downright absurd, to the delinquent and dangerous. In 1776, however, a researcher by the name of Dobson postulated that diabetes was indeed a many faced disease, and the child and adult sufferers of the disease ought to be treated differently.
The only way one could find out if one had diabetes, up until the early 19th century, was through a series of urine tests. It was safe then to say that doctors and researchers were, until that time, working on Galen of Pergamum’s near 1000 year old hypotheses that diabetes was a disease of the kidney. A definitive measurement and analysis of the disease however was not forthcoming. The discovery of insulin in 1870, as the hormone responsible for metabolising of sugars was a revolution in the treatment of the disease, which was still being diagnosed through a series of laboratory only tests.
Blood glucose testing for diabetics is an important tool, as their daily/weekly blood sugar levels are indicators of just which therapy is working for them. It was not until the mid 1940s that a very rudimentary home testing kit was released. With further advances in the field of diabetes management, refinements in technique and technology, and research by a number of pharmaceutical companies and independent researchers, devices that we’re more familiar with, like One Touch, made their debut in the market, and since then have touched, and in many instances changed the lives of diabetes sufferers for the better.
Knowing your blood glucose monitor
We have already examined the need for a robust system of daily blood glucose monitoring for a diabetes sufferer. With this objective in mind, it is necessary for diabetes patients to invest a blood glucose monitor. A blood glucose monitor is a vital tool in the struggle against the disease, after all a person’s daily performance when it comes to their disease, determines whether a course of treatment is working effectively for him/her or not.
With this in mind let us introduce you to your blood glucose monitor. Your blood glucose testing kit, is essentially made up of 3 components.
1. The meter: The meter is the device that analyses your blood sample, and based on a series of pre-programmed parameters, gives you a reading based on the level of sugar in that particular sample. The reading will be in mg/dL, which stands for milligrams per deciliter. The meter itself is battery operated and has the capacity of storing results for many weeks/months. The results are transferable, via USB port to a secondary storage unit like a cell phone or computer.
2. The strip: The strip is a special piece of plastic, which is treated as a medium upon which the blood sample is deposited. The strip is treated both electronically and chemically, so that every strip gives out an error-free and accurate reading, when exposed to the meter.
3. The lancets: Lancets are medical grade needles that are used in an injector pen in order to draw a sample out from a patient. A quick, nearly painless way of extracting the sample, lancets need to be changed after a few dozen uses.
While home blood glucose testing is not meant to replace clinical tests, like a lipid profile and glycosylated haemoglobin (A1c), it is certainly a handy and most convenient testing kit to have. While a quarterly A1c test is recommended, daily monitoring is more than just a way to see if you’re on the proverbial. straight and narrow, it is also a powerful motivational tool, that qualifies and justifies your efforts towards controlling your glycogen levels.
Why are accurate readings important in diabetes care and management?
Blood glucose levels and diabetes management are intricately connected. This is because, unlike a normal person, whose blood glucose is regulated, because of the proper production of insulin in the body, a diabetic needs extraneous insulin doses to manage the same. The glucose levels in a diabetics body can fluctuate wildly and this can cause either too much glucose (hyperglycemia), or too little glucose (hypoglycemia)to be present in the bloodstream.
Glucose is the element that enables the human body to function. We need energy to perform any and every task and as such, too much or too little sugar, can hamper the body’s normal functioning. When there is too much sugar in a diabetic’s body, the possibility of a diabetic coma, is extremely high. Just because a diabetic cannot muster the ideal levels of insulin to ensure that the blood glucose is metabolised effectively, the high concentration of the element in the blood can cause vital organs to crash and shut down. These include the heart, central nervous system and in many cases even the liver.
On the flipside, crashing glucose levels, will induce dizziness, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and even a closure of the body’s vital organs. Management of blood glucose therefore is one of the only ways for a diabetic to ensure that they have an optimum supply of energy, in order to go about their day in a more or less normal fashion.
Home blood glucose monitoring gives a diabetic an accurate picture of where his/her glucose levels are at the time of the test. This enables him/her to take requisite measures to ensure management of blood glucose levels, whether high or low. The instrument in question can be a veritable life saver in extreme situations.
Diet control and diabetes management:
Diet control is as important as exercise in successful diabetes management. There’s an old adage, “you are what you eat” and in more ways than not, this is true for diabetic patients. Diabetes control is governed by following the right kind of diet. What to eat and what not to, can be the difference between proper management of the disease and in complications that may result from it.
According to many diabetologists, a diabetic diet, needs to be high in fibre, milk without cream, probiotic products like buttermilk, fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits (except bananas, grapes, chikoos and other fruits that are high in sugar content.)
Moderation is the name of the game. For the successful control of diabetes, a per day calorie intake between 1500 and 1800 calories in the ratio of 60% protein, 20% fats and 20% carbs is recommended.
Here are a few quick tips about what you should and shouldn’t have as a diabetic:
– Whole grains, oats, millets, and other high fibre foods ought to be a part of your daily cereal intake. Whether in the form of rotis, baked items or consumed individually, these grains are vital in both diabetes management and weight control.
– Milk and milk products need to be consumed in the right quantities and in the right way. Skimmed milk as opposed to whole milk had twice a day is good. Milk products that are rich in probiotic bacteria, including curds, buttermilk and others are very good and must be consumed regularly.
– While dry fruits are an excellent source of energy, they are also high in unnecessary sugar. If you’re looking for a quick energy fix, go in for a whole, fresh fruit, instead. Avoid commercially available juices as they are almost always high in sugar, chemicals and preservatives.
– Vegetables, especially those high in fibre, such as spinach and other leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans and others ought to be one of a diabetics dietary mainstays. Sprouted pulses are high in niacin and iron and these contribute greatly to normalising ones sugar levels and must be included in the diet.
– Omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats found in fish like cod, mackerel and others are good, as they play a major role in controlling cholesterol and normalising sugars. Flaxseed oil, canola and olive oil all have these in good amounts and ought to be used in cooking.
– Fruits from the melon family, including papaya, muskmelon, watermelon and citrus fruits like oranges, sweet lime and others can be consumed. Mangoes, sapotas, bananas and grapes are best consumed in moderation or avoided altogether.
– Dieticians recommend smaller, more frequent meals for diabetics, as large meals often mean a higher level of glucose in the blood.
– If you prefer non-vegetarian food, think lean meat like chicken and seafood over red meat.
A well planned diet, with a good balance of all nutrients will enable a diabetic to control his/her glucose more efficiently and thus manage their diabetes better.
Diabetes can be a debilitating disorder is not managed well. The management of diabetes is a twofold process that begins with blood glucose monitoring, where a diabetic gets a comprehensive picture of his/her blood glucose levels and therefore is able to take precautionary, or remedial steps in order to avoid hyper/hypoglycemia. The second and more important step is diet control, through which the right kind of diet ensures that a diabetic can eat right, stay fit and control his/her glucose, thereby empowering him/herself to lead a normal, almost healthy life.