FOCUS ON HEALTH
By Liben Gebremikael
There are several chronic conditions that disporprotionately affect the Black communities. Among them is diabetes. According to Canadian statistics, people of African descent are two to three times more likely to be affected by diabetes compared to the white population. In our current practice, we are also seeing trends of diagnosis of diabetes at an earlier age.
There are generally two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when our pancreas do not produce sufficient or no insulin at all. Insulin helps to regulate the amount of sugar in our system. Sugar is used for energy for our body. In the absence of the insulin, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. Type 2 diabetes occurs when our body does not use the insulin in our system properly or when our body does not produce enough insulin.
About ten per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 and about 90 per cent, type 2. Type 1 generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but can develop in adulthood. Type 2 more often develops in adults.
Type 1 is always treated with insulin injection. However, with type 2, the treatment may vary from insulin to oral medication to lifestyle modifications
There is a third type of diabetes called gestational diabetes that is a temporary condition affecting women during pregnancy. According to Diabetes Canada, 20 per cent of pregnant women could develop gestational diabetes.
People of African descent are affected by diabetes more than others for various reasons – among them, family history, being overweight or obese, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity are the main ones. High blood pressure or hypertension, which is also more prevalent in the Black communities are also risk factors for diabetes. Other social factors also contribute to the development of diabetes, including life stress, income level, and living conditions.
The mechanics of type 2 diabetes
After a meal, carbohydrates (e.g. bread, rice, yam, milk, and fruit) are broken down into glucose (sugar) in our blood. With the help of the hormone called insulin, cells absorb glucose from our blood to use it for energy. Insulin is made in the pancreas.
When our body cells do not use insulin properly (what is called insulin resistance), it leads to type two diabetes. To meet the demand for more insulin, our pancreas starts producing more insulin. In time, the pancreas loses its ability to produce enough insulin and glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood.
Diabetes is preventable
The good news is that we can prevent the onset of diabetes. The first step is to become aware that as members of the Black community, we are more likely to be affected by this disease. The second is to be proactive in following up with our doctor for our regular annual physical examination and being up-to-date with our screenings. The third is to be consciously active in living a healthy life style by considering healthy eating habits and by incorporating physical activity in our daily routine.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can sometimes be so mild that they are unnoticeable.
Among the most common symptoms for type 2 diabetes are increased thirst, increased hunger,
fatigue, increased urination, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in
the feet or hands, and sores that do not heal.
What can I do if I am diagnosed with diabetes?
Although diabetes is a serious chronic conditions, one can manage the conditions and
continue to lead a quality life. It is important to follow the instruction of your doctor with regard to medication.
Other changes that you may have to establish are eating healthier and developing regular and frequent eating habits. Generally, changes in eating habits include adjusting your meal portions and choosing healthier foods (e.g. less fat, more vegetables and fruits). For many individuals, stress is an additional risk factor. It is therefore, important to find strategies to cope with stress. In most cases, talking to a professional and/or having a strong social support network (families and friends) would be very helpful.
You don’t have to deal with this alone
For many members of the Black community, it may not be easy to prevent the onset of diabetes and to manage it, once diagnosed. A variety of factors may hinder access to appropriate services or resources. The first point of contact for help is your doctor. There are also several diabetes education centres and programs across the GTA that provide information, assistance and support services.
TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough is established to provide primary health care and health promotion programs and services to the Black community across the GTA as its priority population. Our Diabetes Education Program focuses on providing culturally appropriate information, education and activities tailored to meet the need of the Black communities. The services include education and support by a Nurse and a Dietitian who are both Certified Diabetes Educators. We also have a Social Worker who provides assistance to cope with stress and other practical issues (e.g. food security). In addition, we provide complete foot care assessment and treatment as Diabetes affects the feet and if not not looked after or treated properly can lead to a condition called gangrene which in turn might lead to amputation.
In addition, TAIBU offers free culturally appropriate physical activity sessions such as Reggeasize in different locations in Scarborough and beyond.
You can reach us at 416 644 3536 for more information, support or advice.
(Liben Gebremikael is the executive director of Taibu Community Health Centre in Scarborough, Ontario)