Paul Robertson: It’s happening in every country in the world – in India, in China, in Cambodia in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Diabetes is on the march. It’s quickly becoming a pandemic.
Endocrinologist Paul Robertson is president for medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association. He’s talking about type 2 diabetes, a disease that is estimated to afflict almost 30 million Americans.
Paul Robertson: The diagnosis is made because the blood sugar level is above normal, but the longer the blood glucose level stays elevated, the more damage it does to very important tissues in the body including nerves, blood vessels, and eyes.
He said type 2 diabetes is a genetic illness. Though you’re not born with it, you can be born with a susceptibility to it. Robertson added that it’s a common misconception, at least in the United States, that type 2 diabetes just results from being overweight.
Paul Robertson: Twenty percent of people with type 2 diabetes are not obese, and have never been obese. The second piece is that people who are morbidly obese, if you weigh 300-350 lbs – only twenty-five percent of those people ever develop diabetes.
Robertson said that diet, lack of activity, and obesity play a role in the onset of the disease. But, he said, there’s an environmental trigger that investigators have yet to discover.
Paul Roberston: What we’re trying to figure out in a basically genetic disease is why some people get it and some do not, even in the same family where there are very similar genomes.
Robertson recently received a $1.7 million diabetes research grant from the department of defense to figure out whether antioxidants – vitamins A and C, for example – can help prevent – or perhaps even reverse – the deterioration of pancreatic function. In type 2 diabetes, pancreatic beta cells are badly damaged. In terms of health, he says:
Paul Robertson: The best thing we can do at an individual level is take care of ourselves and our families. The second best thing we can do is support people who have diabetes, and not play the blame game by saying, “Oh, you have diabetes because you don’t take care of yourself.”
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.