By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Diabetes is a common, silent but preventable health condition, where the body does not produce sufficient insulin or the produced insulin does not work effectively, and is seeing an increase in Sri Lanka, with health professionals urging the public to take necessary steps to prevent this disease.
One such initiative is Suwa Diviya by Sunshine Foundation for Good, the CSR arm of Sunshine Holdings. The non-profit initiative provides diabetes awareness and education programmes, and The Morning Brunch caught up with Suwa Diviya project head Dr. Kayathri Periyasamy to learn more about diabetes and the myths surrounding it.
The three main types of diabetes are Type 1, which occurs very early on in life; Type 2, which occurs later on in life, typically after 40 years of age; and gestational diabetes, which starts during pregnancy. While Type 1 numbers are static, Type 2 and gestational diabetes are increasing, and Dr. Periyasamy said a lot of youth – teenagers to those in their early 30s – are now developing Type 2 diabetes, due to various factors like their sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits.
“Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes in the world; 98% of cases are Type 2. Type 2 has increased so much in the world, and even in Sri Lanka, that is the biggest problem,” she added.
According to Dr. Periyasamy, Suwa Diviya is a platform where medical specialists as well as paramedical specialists who are involved in diabetes care and are dealing with diabetes, are brought together to provide evidence-based information, keeping away from any unnecessary myths or misinformation.
Myths about management and treatment
When asked what kind of myths about diabetes are common in Sri Lanka, she said that many believe that a few lifestyle changes and a little tweaking here and there are sufficient to manage one’s diabetes, and that going to a medical professional is not necessary. “That’s a very serious misconception. Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, you need a doctor and a team to look after you. They need to follow up regularly.”
There are also myths surrounding the diabetes diet. “The diabetes diet is not a sick person’s diet. The diabetes diet is a very healthy diet, which can be eaten by everyone.”
One of the other misconceptions is that diabetic drugs cause kidney failure, and as such, one should reduce their intake of drugs as much as possible. However, Dr. Periyasamy explained that all drugs used now are well-tested. None of the drugs used now have any long-term side effects, she said, adding that certain drugs may not agree with the individual patient, but that, in such cases, a medical professional can prescribe alternatives.
Another myth related to medicine is that they are addictive. This isn’t the case, however, and Dr. Periyasamy explained that the reason one’s dosage could be increased over time is the natural progression of the disease. “When you are initially diagnosed, you may have some insulin in your body, but over time, the amount of insulin in your body goes down because of the progression of the disease,” she said, adding that the progression of the disease can be slowed down if it is treated early enough, but with this progression, the patient’s insulin level keeps going down, thus requiring more and more medicines to handle it. This, however, does not mean that the patient has developed an addiction to the drugs.
Many also see having to take insulin as the end of the journey, but Dr. Periyasamy explained that insulin is not an end-stage product or treatment. It is given temporarily to patients whose high blood sugar needs to be brought down quickly, as well as people who are sick with other conditions, like an infection, and whose symptoms, like vomiting, mean they can’t take medicine orally. Insulin is also safe for children and pregnant women.
She added that some also believe taking insulin is bad for you. However, having to inject insulin is required because of insufficient production within the body or ineffective response to the insulin produced. “At present, the insulin that we give is human insulin, so we are just replacing what you don’t have,” she stressed, adding that insulin used today are very natural products.
Photos Saman Abesiriwardana