OPINION

It's well past time to tackle Australia's other epidemic

Fighting type 2 diabetes is all about proper nutrition. Picture: Shutterstock
Fighting type 2 diabetes is all about proper nutrition. Picture: Shutterstock

Over the last year we have spoken endlessly about our grievances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is not spoken about enough is an Australian epidemic, with consequences just as severe.

Type 2 diabetes is arguably the biggest health problem facing Australians today. An estimated 1.2 million Aussies have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and a new case is diagnosed every five minutes. In rural communities, the risk is especially high. Rural Australians are 30 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and mortality rates are up to four times higher.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common cause of blindness in Australia, the most common cause of kidney failure, the most common cause of amputations, and is closely linked to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The annual cost to the Australian community is estimated at $14.6 billion.

Most alarmingly, there are an estimated 500,000 Australians living today with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.

When I was in medical school, it was known as "mature-onset" diabetes, but the name had to be changed. Every year we are seeing type 2 diabetes in younger and younger people.

Patients do not develop diabetes immediately. A further estimated 2 million Australians live with pre-diabetes. In the past, both type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes have been regarded as progressive and irreversible.

But today we know that is not the case. Today's evidence shows that one simple lifestyle change can dramatically halt progression, and in many cases, place diabetes and pre-diabetes in remission.

It all comes down to better nutrition.

Carbohydrates are found in foods everywhere; they are served at the breakfast table, sold as smoothies and purchased from the frozen food and bread aisles. Australians are eating too many carbohydrates, and it's making us fatter and sicker.

The healthy food pyramid that many of us grew up with encouraged us to pile our plates with fruit and grains whilst limiting protein and healthy fats. We've had an obsession with reducing fat in our diet, but as a consequence, our carbohydrate intake has skyrocketed.

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Type 2 diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance. Yet ironically, the recommended diet for type 2 diabetes has always been one high in carbohydrates.

There is now considerable scientific evidence that a low-carb, high-protein, healthy-fat diet can drastically improve blood glucose control and send pre- and type 2 diabetes into remission.

I have first-hand experience of this. In my 50s I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, and by switching to a low-carb lifestyle I was able to achieve remission in just a few short months. I now want to see more Aussies adopt a low-carb lifestyle and use it to defeat diabetes.

People around the world are using app-based programs to place their diabetes in remission, prevent the onset of diabetes and lose weight. Until recently, a program like this wasn't available in Australia. Together with a group of fellow doctors, dietitians and nutritionists, I have worked to make it happen.

Our doctor-led Defeat Diabetes program launched in January 2021, giving members low-carb meal plans, cooking demonstrations and access to simple, delicious recipes. And it works. A survey of our members showed that, after three months, 63 per cent of users had put their type 2 diabetes into remission, and they had lost an average of seven kilograms in weight.

Type 2 diabetes no longer needs to be considered a chronic progressive disease. There is now hope for those with type 2 diabetes that by reducing their carbohydrate intake with a program such as Defeat Diabetes, they can improve their blood glucose control and, in many cases, put their type 2 diabetes into remission.

  • Professor Peter Brukner is a professor of sports medicine at La Trobe University and the founder of Defeat Diabetes.
This story It's well past time to tackle Australia's other epidemic first appeared on The Canberra Times.