Today is World Diabetes Day, a day when the world's diabetes community gathers to help raise awareness and support for diabetes and diabetes research. Today is also a day to raise awareness of the struggles that diabetics face every day.
What Is Diabetes? (A Quick Overview)
Diabetes is a disease that affects the endocrine system, specifically the pancreas. In a diabetic, the pancreas fails to produce enough of the hormone insulin—which helps to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood stream. Diabetes comes in two types: type 1 diabetes (also called "juvenile diabetes" or "insulin-dependent diabetes"), which occurs when the pancreas does not produce any insulin, and type 2 diabetes (also called "adult-onset diabetes" or "noninsulin-dependent diabetes"), where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to handle the amount of glucose in the blood.
As I am sure you noticed, I used the word "glucose", not "sugar", when referring to what substance is found in the blood. There is the common misconception that only sugar is a factor in diabetes. This is completely false! Sugar, while an important consideration to diabetics, is not the only contributing factor to the glucose in the blood. Glucose is derived from all forms of digested carbohydrates—starches, sugars (sucrose, dextrose, etc.), and others. (For more diabetes myths, visit the American Diabetes Association's webpage on diabetes myths.)
Insulin's role in the human body is that of glucose control. Insulin assists the cells to absorb the glucose, which then acts as the cells' energy source. This accounts for one of the symptoms of diabetes—tiredness. When insulin is absent, the glucose is not as readily absorbed by the cells (if at all) and it remains suspended in the blood stream. It is this sharp, pointy glucose floating in the blood stream that is cited as the cause for many diabetes complications.
Why is Diabetes Advocacy Important?
It is estimated by the American Diabetes Association that, as of 2012, approximately 29.1 million Americans are living with diabetes, with an estimated 8.1 million undiagnosed. The 29.1 million number comprises 9.3% of the US population. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that, worldwide as of 2013, an estimated 382 million people are living with diabetes; this is a little over 8% of the world's population. Of these 382 million people, an estimated 172.72 million people are undiagnosed. The worldwide number of people with diabetes is more than the population of all the world's countries, with the exception of China and India.
In addition to these staggering numbers, the American Diabetes Association states that diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2010, 69.071 deaths were directly related to diabetes, while a further 234,051 deaths were indirectly related to diabetes, with it an underlying or contributing cause of death.
Finally, according to the American Diabetes Association diabetes costs the United States approximately $245 billion per year. This is broken down as $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity. By finding a cure for diabetes that is money that could be returned to the economy—or, better, used to find cures for other chronic and debilitating diseases.
OK, You've Convinced Me; How Do I Help?
Well, that is a great question, thank you for asking! The quickest and easiest way to help is to donate to any number of great diabetes organizations. My personal favorites are the American Diabetes Association (Donation page), the International Diabetes Federation, and the JDRF (Donation page)—which is the leading champion for type 1 diabetes research and advocacy.
In addition, your donations can take other forms. For example, the American Diabetes Association allows you to donate stocks, vehicles, or time, among other ways. They also have some great events that you can be a part of to raise awareness of diabetes.
Learn as much as you can about diabetes. This will not only stop the spread of incorrect information, but will also help those living with diabetes to not feel shunned. By knowing more about diabetes, you can help to support diabetics in their fight against this disease. You will be able to spot the signs of low blood sugar, and act accordingly; you will better understand a diabetic's lifestyle choices; and more. All of this means a better relationship for everybody and we can then focus more on what needs to be done, like changing the world.
Finally, you can help in the old-fashioned way. With new technologies, information can spread faster and further than ever before—look, you're at my website, no matter where you may be in the world. So, advocates can use this to their advantage. Use Twitter (tweet with hashtag #WDD for today), Facebook, or any other social platform to spread the word of diabetes. Write your own blog and advocate there. Get out and shout it from the rooftops. No matter what you do, know that every person who helps will have an even greater impact.
This is only the beginning. To find out more about World Diabetes Day, visit the IDF's World Diabetes Day website, visit the IDF's website, visit the American Diabetes Association's website, and visit the JDRF website. This is a fight that goes for more than one day each year; this is a daily struggle, every day of the year.
With your support, we can change the world; we can end diabetes. Let this World Diabetes Day be a special day in the course of diabetes, in your life, and in the lives of all diabetics (like me).
(Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only; none of the information included in this post should be construed as medical advice. If you are concerned that you may have diabetes, you should visit a medical professional for tests. If you have questions or concerns about diabetes care, consult with a medical professional.)