Why are First Nations People more prone to Diabetes?

First of all What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when your body cannot produce or use to function properly. Insulin is necessary for your body to turn sugar from food into energy. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is still sometimes referred to as "juvenile diabetes" because it is almost always diagnosed in individuals before the age of 40 except in rare cases. It is approximated that only 15% of diabetics are type 1.This type of diabetes cannot be avoided through prevention, it has no correlation to the individuals' weight, diet or lifestyle. In type 1 cases the body is unable to produce insulin on its own. It is known as an auto-immune disease, in which the diagnosed person cannot survive without insulin injections.

Type 2: With the body produces insulin but is not properly distributed to the cells, resulting in high or low blood sugar depending on different factors. In almost all cases of type 2 diabetes it was developed as the result of weight, diet and activity levels.

Diabetes Among Aboriginals

With the discovery of insulin in 1921 our understanding of this disease came into focus in the wider population, but Diabetes wasn't observed in Aboriginal groups and communities until the 1940s. Today type 2 diabetes is rampant among Native communities and is reaching epidemic proportions. People of native ancestry are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than any other people group in Canada. Aboriginal women in particular are 5 times more likely to develop diabetes than women of any other ethnic group.

Why are Native People more likely to get Diabetes?

There are different theories as to why aboriginals are at higher risk. When Europe Colonized North America a major shift took place in the lifestyle of Aboriginal People. Within a short period of time their way of life was transformed from being active hunter-gatherers to a more sedentary lifestyle. Their eating habits were completely changed from high protein diets, supplemented with natural organic foods, to high carbohydrate, high sodium, high sugar diets, containing more starches, fat and processed foods. Through the effects of segregation through reservations, many socio-economic factors also come into play. In many cases living on Reservations provides very few economic opportunities leaving many aboriginal communities in poverty. Some are left without the means to access healthy food, and many remote communities do not have adequate access to proper health care and health education services.

Are you at risk?
If you are aboriginal you are automatically at higher risk due to hereditary and genetic factors. So prevention to reduce other risk factors is crucial.

Age - The older you get the higher your chances of developing onset diabetes. In the past, people age 40 and up had significantly
higher chances of developing type 2 diabetes, but with the increasing number of problems facing todays
aboriginal communities, type 2 diabetes is being observed in more people as young as 20 years of age.

Overweight - Being overweight is one of the biggest factors contributing to type 2 diabetes. With
that being said it is one of the keys that you can use to prevent and manage this disease through a healthy diet and exercise.

Diabetes in your family - If you have a history of diabetes in your family it puts you at increased risk of
developing type 2 Diabetes. This is outside of your control, so the best thing that you can do is concentrate on the
risk factors that you can control. Diet, exercise and regular check-ups by your Doctor.

Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

The Good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented, delayed and managed through

Exercise – Exercise is very important in the management and prevention of Diabetes. Some studies show that moderate cardiovascular exercise can reduce your risk of developing Diabetes by 50 to 60%. For people already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, regular exercise lowers blood sugar, improves their sensitivity to insulin and burns fat which makes overall management of this disease much easier. It is believed that high intensity exercise 3 to 5 times a week is a good amount of exercise to
start with, because diabetics can have more health complications always consult your Doctor as to how much exercise is safe for

Diet – Because it is believed that much of the rampant type 2 diabetes in the Native population can be attributed to the rapid change in lifestyle in the last century, much of the damage can be undone by a return to a more traditional lifestlye. When it comes to diet, a return to a more traditional diet includes high protein, lower carbohydrate diet with lots of organic fruits and vegetables.

Regular Check ups – Regular check ups are a great way to prevent type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes has been dubbed "the silent killer" because often the person at risk doesn't recognize the warning signs. If you identify yourself as someone who meets the criteria of being a person at risk(aboriginal,overweight, over 40,) then consult your family doctor and arrange for regular visits. Early detection can make a world of difference in the management and even reversal of this disease.

What are the warning signs?
Early detection and prevention are essential in managing and sometimes reversing the effects of this disease. If you think that you could
be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, here are some warning signs to watch for.

Feeling Dehydrated and thirsty often
Frequent urination
Unusual vision problems
Lack of energy
Tingling sensation in your extremities

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms it doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes, but it is
best to consult your physician or local health care worker.