Doctors seek home-grown deterrents in India’s diabetes fight
From yoga and fenugreek powder to mobile messaging, diabetes experts in India are searching for local and cost-effective methods to fend off the disease as it affects ever more numbers of people in the country.
India is home to more than 60 million diabetics, a number that the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India (RSSDI) estimates will cross 85 million in 2030, or nearly 8 percent of the country’s population today.
Among the reasons for the rising number of cases is an increasing tendency toward sedentary lifestyles that have accompanied growing economic prosperity, as well as genetic predispositions in a country already known for its sweet tooth. Doctors told India Insight that in 1975 — when India’s GDP was around $100 billion — only about 1.5 percent of its population had diabetes. Today’s percentage is more in line with developed nations such as the United States at 8.3 percent and France at 5 percent.
While experts say initiatives such as promoting physical fitness, healthy eating and restricting sales of junk food and cola near schools help prevent diabetes, some doctors in India are hunting for remedies that they think are better suited to that country.
“We need local solutions, which are acceptable to people, which are also cost-effective,” said Anoop Misra of the Fortis Centre of Excellence for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases & Endocrinology.
Misra’s study, on the benefits of eating pistachios for people at high risk for diabetes, is scheduled for publication in the U.S.-based health journal Nutrition. His study found that replacing 20 percent of calories in food with pistachio nuts coupled with a simple exercise regime could lead to a decrease in the incidence of diabetes.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Sugar then cannot be properly stored or used, and builds up in the bloodstream.
Doctors say new drugs are coming up which would better help manage diabetes, but a cure to the lifelong illness, associated with complications such as heart disease, stroke, damage to the kidneys or nerves and blindness, remains elusive.
The RSSDI, Asia’s largest umbrella group of doctors and researchers, is also undertaking a large-scale study on whether eating fenugreek powder and practising yoga can help prevent diabetes.
Fenugreek, known locally as methi, is a common ingredient in Indian kitchens. Yoga, which originated in ancient India, uses postures to strengthen the body and breathing techniques to quiet the mind. The RSSDI doctors are also studying eating habits and exercise regimens in India before suggesting lifestyle modifications.
“What we’re trying is prevention in a large scale, and it’s a three-year intervention, where the patient has to actually change his lifestyle,” said V.S. Madhu, the research society’s organising chairman. “And in the long term, it should be sustainable.”
In a separate study, Ambady Ramachandran, founder of India Diabetes Research Foundation, showed that text messages via mobile phones are a cost-effective way in India to reach out to people at high risk.
Apart from these intervention studies, several Indian institutes are carrying out genetic research to better understand the disease in the Indian context – both culturally and physiologically – unlike earlier when local doctors had to rely on studies from the West.
Multiple studies proved that Indians are more prone to diabetes than other ethnic groups due to factors such as genes and body structure, and research specifically targeting Indians was indispensable.
“Gene, environment, then our physical structure. We have more subcutaneous visceral fat around abdomen, apple shape (body) is more common in Indian population than in Western population which increases the risk of diabetes,” said Rajeev Chawla, director of the North Delhi Diabetes Centre.
India has an estimated 77 million pre-diabetics, a precursor to Type 2, the most common type of the disease. The majority of diabetes cases are in southern India and the metros.
As a culture, Indians “consume much more saturated fat, much less fibre, and fewer fruits and vegetables,” said Misra. “All this needs to be corrected.”
(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; follow David on Twitter at @davidlms25, Tony @tonytharakan and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission.)