x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Diet the big gun in battle with diabetes

To recognise World Diabetes Day, health professionals gathered to offer ways to reduce the high incidence of the disease in the UAE.

SHARJAH // Proper diet is the key to greatly reducing the high level of diabetes in the UAE, the head of the Emirates Diabetes Society says.

"It is simple. The main risk factors for Type 2 are genetic and obesity," Dr Abdul Razak Al Madani said ahead of World Diabetes Day today.

"Genetic they cannot do anything about, but obesity - this is something we can. We have to avoid being obese.

"It is easy to tell [patients] to take medication but once you tell them to avoid eating foods, they find that difficult to follow."

The UAE has the second-highest rate of diabetes in the world after the Pacific nation of Nauru, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90 per cent of cases worldwide, increases sharply with unhealthy weight gain, Dr Al Madani said.

Data from the Weqaya screening programme, introduced by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi in 2008, shows nearly 20 per cent of Emiratis have diabetes, with almost two thirds of those screened found to be overweight or obese.

Pre-diabetes, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, is also prevalent.

Type 1, which is most common in adolescents and young adults, is caused when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin.

But Type 2 diabetics, who suffer from resistance to, or insufficient amounts of insulin, will soon have an alternative to daily shots.

Bydureon, an extended-release drug, was approved by the Ministry of Health yesterday and is expected to hit the shelves on November 23.

The drug adjusts its activity according to blood-sugar levels. Its makers say it is not suitable for Type 1 or insulin-dependent patients for whom the disease has progressed.

All diabetes patients should take part in group health discussions to fully understand the importance of diet on managing the condition, said Dr Ashraf Nazmy, a nutrition specialist at the Health Promotion and Education Department of the Ministry of Health.

"Even today, kids and adults think it's only sugary foods that makes their blood-sugar level go up," Dr Nazmy said. "It's about knowledge. The best thing to do is to explain to them what makes the sugar in the blood go up and why."

Education is one of six aims promoted by the Ministry of Health, said Dr Salah Al Badawi, the director of the National Project for the Control of Diabetes.

Part of the initiative, called Win over Diabetes, includes training doctors and nurses to help diabetics manage their condition.

One of the lessons for diabetics is that keeping their blood sugar in check is crucial for their eyesight.

"Diabetes can affect every single bit of the eye," said Dr Chris Canning, a consultant vitreo-retinal surgeon and medical director at Moorfields Eye Hospital in Dubai. "It affects very small blood vessels."

Those vessels can dry up, form in the wrong parts of the eye or leak fluid, leading to blurry vision and blindness, Dr Canning said.

Two per cent of diabetics worldwide go blind after 15 years of developing the disease, the WHO says. Screening can reduce the risk of developing such complications by more than half, Dr Canning added.

The ministry is creating a national screening system to reduce the rate of diabetes. Dr Canning said there were two main needs for keeping tabs on the problem.

"The first is an established surveillance system so that we could know exactly where we are, and [second] is the registry for diabetes. We have a registry … it's patchy," he said.

Dr Al Badawi said a national study to assess the spread of diabetes would be carried out early next year.

zalhassani@thenational.ae