By 2024, the IDF predicted that the number of people with diabetes is expected to increase to 1 in 8 adults.
“As the world marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin, I wish we could say we have stopped the growing tide of diabetes,” IDF President Dr. Andrew Boulton told CNN. “Instead, diabetes is currently a pandemic of unprecedented magnitude.”
To date, nearly 7 million adults have died worldwide in 2021 due to diabetes or its complications, the IDF has estimated – that is more than 1 in 10 deaths worldwide due to any cause.
“And if you want another surprise statistics, up to 40% of people who died in the United States from Covid-19 had diabetes, ”said Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.
The pandemic has also affected how well people have managed their diabetes over the past year and a half, said Boulton, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Manchester in the UK.
“My fear is that we will see a tsunami in the next two years of diabetes and its complications because people have missed their exam appointments for fear of catching Covid-19,” he said.
Is Covid a trigger for diabetes?
As bad as these numbers are, experts worry that Covid-19 could contribute to an even bigger problem.
“Maybe more people are developing diabetes because of Covid,” Gabbay told CNN.
Boulton echoed that concern: “There may be a specific diabetes induced by Covid, although there is some debate about this at present.”
“Whether new-onset diabetes is likely to remain persistent is not known, as the long-term follow-up of these patients is limited,” the study reported.
It is very possible that Covid-19 is not the culprit. Blood sugar abnormalities could be triggered by the stress of infection and the steroids used to fight inflammation of Covid-19, Gabbay said.
People may also have had diabetes that had not been previously diagnosed. The IDF estimates that of the 537 million adults living with diabetes worldwide, nearly half (44.7%) are still undiagnosed.
But there is also evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can bind to the ACE2 receptors in the pancreatic islet cells – the organ that produces the body’s insulin, Boulton and Gabbay told CNN.
“The virus attacks those cells in the pancreas and prevents their production of insulin, so that may be another mechanism,” Gabbay said. “And those individuals who are diagnosed in the hospital with diabetes for the first time, by any mechanism, are unfortunately doing worse.”
Early identification is key
Reversing the growing tide of diabetes cases requires early identification. It is preferred to cut type 2 diabetes in the pre-diabetic stages because it is before the body begins to suffer damage from irregular blood sugar and lifestyle changes are more easily implemented.
Studies in Finland a few decades ago found that people with “very slightly elevated blood sugar,” who followed a prudent diet and regular exercise, “had a 54% reduction in the procedure for Type 2 diabetes,” Boulton said.
“And it didn’t have to whip you in the gym,” he added. “It’s prudent to exercise, walk instead of ride the bus and go up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. That can do the trick.”
Even full-blown diabetes can be put into moderation, Gabbay said, with a diet regimen, exercise and stress reduction and proper use of medications.
“People in remission may still be at risk for some long-term complications, and therefore they still need to be monitored, with quarterly blood tests, an annual eye and foot test, and an annual examination for kidney disease and cholesterol levels, ”he said.
Being over 60, overweight, having gestational diabetes while pregnant, having a family history of diabetes, currently living with high blood pressure and lack of exercise all increase your risk.