Fifty years ago, diabetes was a relatively uncommon disease. Today, the latest estimates are that 50% of Americans are now diabetic or pre-diabetic.
There are some obvious explanations: excess weight, inactivity, the proliferation of fructose in our diets. It is also my firm belief that the diets advocated by official agencies, like the USDA, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association, have also contributed with their advice to eat more “healthy whole grains.”
When I was a kid, I ate Lucky Charms® or Cocoa Puffs® for breakfast, carried Hoho’s® and Scooter Pies® in my lunchbox, along with a peanut butter sandwich on white bread. We ate TV dinners, biscuits, instant mashed potatoes for dinner. Back then, it was a matter of novelty, convenience, and, yes, taste.
What did we do to our pancreases eating such insulin-stimulating foods through childhood, teenage years, and into early adulthood? Did our eating habits as children and young adults create diabetes many years later? Could sugary breakfast cereals, snacks, and candy in virtually unlimited quantities have impaired our pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, leading to pre-diabetes and diabetes many years later?
A phenomenon called glucose toxicity underlies the development of diabetes and pre-diabetes. Glucose toxicity refers to the damaging effect that high blood sugars (glucose) have on the delicate beta cells of the pancreas, the cells that produce insulin. This damage isirreversible: once it occurs, it cannot be undone, and the beta cells stop producing insulin and die. The destructive effect of high glucose levels on pancreatic beta cells likely occurs through oxidative damage, with injury from toxic oxidative compounds like superoxide anion and peroxide. The pancreas is uniquely ill-equipped to resist oxidative injury, lacking little more than rudimentary anti-oxidative protection mechanisms.
Glucose toxicity that occurs over many years eventually leaves you with a pancreas that retains only 50% or less of its original insulin producing capacity. That’s when diabetes develops, when impaired pancreatic insulin production can no longer keep up with the demands put on it.
(Interesting but unanswered question: If oxidative injury leads to beta cell dysfunction and destruction, can antioxidants prevent such injury? Studies in cell preparations and animals suggest that anti-oxidative agents, such as astaxanthin and acetylcysteine, may block beta cell oxidative injury. However, no human studies have yet been performed. This may prove to be a fascinating area for future.)
Now that 50% of American have diabetes or pre-diabetes, how much should we blame on eating habits when we were younger? I would wager that eating habits of youth play a large part in determining potential for diabetes or pre-diabetes as an adult.
The lesson: Don’t allow children to repeat our mistakes. Letting them indulge in a lifestyle of soft drinks, candy, pretzels, and other processed junk carbohydrates has the potential to cause diabetes 20 or 30 years later, shortening their life by 10 years. Kids are not impervious to the effects of high sugar, including the cumulative damaging effects of glucose toxicity.
Change your life in 60 seconds