The Korea Herald


Diabetes: Watch out before it’s too late

By 김후란

Published : May 5, 2011 - 18:55

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How much do we know about diabetes? Kim Sung-rae, chairman of committee of public relations at the Korea Diabetes Association, shares some key fact about diabetes with The Korea Herald to raise public awareness of the disease ― Ed.

About 5 million people in Korea are assumed to be diabetic. But only half of them are aware of their disorder and only half those diagnosed with diabetes visit doctors regularly to check the progress of the disease and to control the symptoms.

However, diabetes is not a simple disease at all. Complications include loss of sight, legs or other parts of the body and sometimes even lives are threatened.

Diabetes mellitus is, according to the American Diabetes Association’s definition, a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and use insulin.

Dysfunction of insulin could result in various disorders including fatal damage to organs. Unfortunately, there are not many distinctive indicators for diabetes and not many people visit their doctors before the disease progresses to a critical stage.

There are largely two types of diabetes. Type 1 involves no insulin secretion, causing cells in the liver, muscle and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood and store it as glycogen in the liver and muscle. Type 2 is insulin resistant or involves relatively low insulin production.

In Korea, type 2 is dominant, with over 96 percent of diabetes patients suffering from this type of diabetes. This pattern is reversed in some northern European countries where type 1 accounts for more than 80 percent.

There no clear reason for the prevalence of the disease but heredity is seen as a large contributing factor. Doctors also suspect Koreans, who have had a vegetable and crop-focused diet for centuries, quickly shifting to greasy and fatty dinners could be another major cause.

“Because our body isn’t used to being in need of too much insulin in the past, the sudden change of diet, which requires more insulin, must have shocked the body,” Kim said.

There aren’t many signs that suggest the one has diabetes. However, urinating frequently even during night time is a positive indicator. “You wake up every one or two hours to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, even though you have no urine left in the body, you cannot help wanting to go to the bathroom ― or suffer from extreme thirst and sudden weight loss. In these cases, the chances are high that you are diabetic.”

There is no cure for diabetes, but is controllable to a level that does not affect ordinary lives. With appropriate diet regiment ― keep away from salty, greasy foods, eat lots of vegetables and exercise for more than 30 minutes a day for more than five days a week ― and medication, many people are able to live with the disease without significant problems. “The government recommends metformine for primary prescription, which is effective for type 1 diabetes. We use some other medicines, too,” Kim said.

Kim stressed the importance of diet.

“Eat regularly,” he advised. “It is good for non-diabetic people, too, because it is healthy and sustainable.”

Currently, Korea is one of the most active countries in terms of diabetes studies. Amaryl of Handok Pharmaceutical is being exported to other countries and is receiving good response.

There are also studies under way to transplant beta cells extracted from the pancreas that could produce insulin. This expected to lead to a treatment that would replace direct insulin injection. “The success rate isn’t significant yet but we will get there soon,” Kim said.

Some large hospitals provide two-day education on diabetes management. “Be sure to take them. Diabetes is a scary disease but also controllable,” Kim added.

By Bae Ji-sook (