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Does Being a Bear Have to Mean Diabetes?

Hey there Guys,

Last week I was invited to take part in a survey about the bear community, and was a little angry when it came to one particular question.

As a member of the bear community do you suffer with diabetes or anxiety/depression?

Perhaps I am being overly sensitive but I was left with the feeling that the person who wrote the question thought that mental health or diabetes were the only possible health issues of which bears can suffer.

Grrrrr, and that’s not to good grrrr either!

Today I thought it was a good idea to set the record straight.

I want to talk about what diabetes is, its risks and how being a bear does not necessarily mean you automatically have to have diabetes.

There are just a few concepts I need to share, and if you have any questions please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to explain.

Let’s get started guys!

What is diabetes?

Every cell in our body uses glucose, a form of sugar, as it’s fuel to stay alive. Glucose comes from the carbohydrates in our diet such as sugars and fruit but also in starchy foods like bread, pasta and rice.

These foods are broken down in the gut and the sugar is transfered to the blood.

Once glucose is in the blood a hormone called insulin does the job of telling the cells to let the sugar in, pulling the glucose from the blood and into the cells.

In diabetes there is a problem with the way that insulin works. Either the body does not make enough insulin, or the body has become resistant to insulin meaning that despite being present it is not able to function. If insulin is not working, glucose levels increase whereby they can cause inflammation and damage to the blood vessels and organs in the body.

I’m sure you have heard the terms type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is more common in younger people and occurs when there is a sudden reduction in insulin production, usually because of some sort of damage to the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in people who are older and tends to have a more gradual onset. Type 2 diabetes usually starts with “pre-diabetes” and as blood sugar levels start to rise, diabetes is diagnosed.

What is pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is when the body is starting to develop resistence to insulin. Levels of blood sugar are still within the normal range however larger amounts of insulin are needed to maintain this level.

As the pancreas starts to tire it is not able to maintain insulin production to meet the needs of controlling blood sugar levels. This results in a slow rise in blood sugar levels.

Pre-diabetes can be identified by mildly raised blood sugars and/or high insulin levels first thing in the morning.

Studies show that if pre-diabetes is not addressed about one in four will convert to actual diabetes in a three to five year period.

The good news is that if there is a change in some of the risk factors for diabetes, this progression can be halted.

 So what are the risk factors for diabetes?

In type 2 diabetes there are risk factors that we are able to modify and those that we are not. To start off let’s have a look at the risk factors that we are not able to control.

Family History:

As they say, you can choose your friends but not your family. If one of your brothers or sisters has been diagnosed with diabetes you have a 40% chance of also developing diabetes. If one of your parents has diabetes your risk of diabetes is more then double and this spikes up to just under a four fold risk of both of your parents are diabetic.

Your Ethnicity:

People of Aboriginal, Torres Straight Islander, Pacific Islander or Maori descent are at a much higher risk of diabetes and also tend to develop diabetes much earlier in life.

Your Age:

As we get older our risk of developing diabetes increases.

While there is little we can do to change our ethnic background, family history or age there are other risk factors that are able to be changed, these include:

Your weight, in particular your waist measurement:

When it comes to the bear community this is the one risk factor that doctors seem to talk about frequently completely ignoring the other risk factors that also lead to diabetes. Yes it’s true that being more then 20% overweight increases the risk of diabetes but perhaps more interesting is the way this weight is distributed.

Guys when they gain weight tend to store fat in their belly. Unlike fat on the hips and legs, fat in the belly produces many hormones, including those that lead to insulin resistance. Because of this we now understand that men with a waist line larger then 94cm are at an increased risk of diabetes. If your waistline is more then 102cm there is a significantly increased risk of diabetes.

The evidence shows that if you are able to bring your waist line in to at least 94cm you can greatly reduce your risk of diabetes. Even if you are able to go down by one pants-size this can make a difference.

While we understand these risks it’s also important to note that not everyone with a belly has diabetes and not everyone with diabetes necessarily has a belly.

Levels of exercise and activity:

Exercise is a very useful way of increasing the bodies sensitivity to insulin. We know that people who have at least 30 minutes of physical movement at least 5 days a week can reduce their risk of diabetes by over one third even if the exercise does not result in weight loss.

Diet:

Western diets noted for high consumption of starchy carbohydrates and highly manufactured foods are associated with increased sugar loads on the body meaning higher needs for insulin. This puts pressure on the pancreas which may already be struggling to keep up with demand leading to the decline towards diabetes.

People who eat diets that are rich is fresh fruit and vegetables, reduced starchy carbohydrates and meats in as close to their most natural form have a decreased risk of diabetes.

Smoking:

Smoking has been shown to decrease sensitivity to insulin and also increase the size of the belly which, as mentioned above, is also a risk for diabetes.

Some Medications:

Research has shown that there are some medications that are known to increase the risk of diabetes.

In particular the worst offenders seem to be few of the drugs used to treat schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

Other drugs that have been associated with diabetes are steroids and there is now evidence that drugs used to lower cholesterol may also increase risk of diabetes.

If you are concerned about your current medications I urge you to not change them until you have had a chance to sit down with your doctor to discuss them. Often there are alternative medications that do not effect blood sugar.

Learn your potential diabetes risk in 60 seconds now!

If you are concerned that you may be at risk of diabetes you can take this simple online quiz to check your risk of developing diabetes over the next five years. It’s very simple to do and will only take about one minute.

Click Here To Take The Online Diabetes Risk Assessment

Scores above 5 points may indicate you are at an increased risk of diabetes. I recommend printing out your results and discussing them with your family doctor. He or she may wish to organize some additional testing to see how your body is dealing with sugar.

 Getting tested for diabetes

If after reading this post you are interested in getting tested for diabetes I recommend you make an appointment with your family doctor.

Initial testing for diabetes is a simple process with the best screening test being a fasting blood glucose test. I usually like to include a fasting blood insulin level a well to help uncover insulin resistance which can be present even when blood sugar levels are normal.

If either of these tests are abnormal the next test is to have a glucose tolerance test which is also a fasting test and take about 2 hours to complete. You can read about getting a glucose tolerance test here.

 So what does all this mean?

Guys I know that this has been a pretty heavy post. I wanted to make sure I was able to share the latest information on the common risks associated with diabetes and how being a bear does not have to be one of them.

The good news is that with simple lifestyle changes over 60% of cases of diabetes can be prevented.

By understanding the risks we can be in a much better position to work towards avoiding diabetes and if it’s discovered, help reduce the impact of it on our health.

Perhaps I am being a little greedy but I love my bear mates. I want to make sure my friends are healthy and around for a long time. Avoiding things like diabetes can be a bloody good start.

To quote a good mate of mine I was having dinner with last night:

Diabetes sucks, if there is anything I would  love to say to the bear community is to do what ever you can to avoid getting it.

In my next post I am going to discuss some of the exact measures we can take to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Catch you then.

Yours in fantastic bear health.

Dr George

Can I ask a favour? Can you please hit the like button below to help spread the word? All help is appreciated.