New Diabetes Breakthroughs, Plus 5 Ways to Prevent the Disease


According to Diabetes Canada, more than 5.7 million Canadians live with Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. Photo: Getty Images

When Shani Sharp was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, she learned to inject herself with insulin from cows and pigs. It wasn’t until a few years later that lab-engineered Humulin became available in Winnipeg where she grew up.

“In those days, I had to pee into a vial for my sugar levels to be monitored,” she recalls.

Now a healthy 53 years old, Sharp works as a property manager in Toronto where she lives with her husband and their two teenagers. An automated insulin pump maintains her sugar levels, adjusting to her food intake and activity level. “It’s like a little computer,” she says.

Even without any of the beta cells that produce insulin in people without her disease, Sharp is living a healthy, normal life with no risk of a shortened lifespan. “I take a statin,” she says. “I don’t have any other issues.”

It’s taken 100 years of research, medical breakthroughs and technological progress, beginning with the discovery and availability of insulin in 1923, to make that possible.

“I watch my food, I don’t eat cakes and cookies, and I exercise,” Sharp says. “I walk everywhere, I use my stationary bike, I do weights. And I clean my house.” She adds, “It’s a lifestyle.”

It’s exactly that lifestyle recommended by diabetes experts for all older Canadians. 

“People with Type 1 can do very well into their 80s and 90s,” says University of Montreal researcher Jane Yardley, “even though until recently they had a shorter lifespan.

“They do have a higher risk of frailty with aging and one of the best ways to prevent frailty is resistance exercise. Weightlifting affects blood glucose in the short term and helps prevent the loss of muscle and bone as we age. That applies to the general population, too.”

She adds, “And it’s never too late to start.”


Diabetes in Canada


There are more than 5.7 million Canadians living with Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes according to Diabetes Canada. As well, 11.7 million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes, which can progress to Type 2. About 10 per cent of Canadians with diabetes have Type 1 while 90 per cent have Type 2.

The good news is that “there’s been an explosion of knowledge around diabetes,” says Dr. Ravi Retnakaran, professor of medicine, University of Toronto and, endocrinologist, Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes,

“The past 10 years have been remarkable with new therapies that reduce risk of mortality as well as cardiovascular disease. We have interventions at our disposal that can reduce that risk, including metformin and the new weight loss medications. It’s remarkable that we now have these medications that open the possibility of achieving weight loss on a scale not possible before.”

Obesity is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Results posted last week of a major clinical trial showed that Wegovy, first developed as a diabetes medication, not only helped patients lose an average of nine per cent of their weight, but also reduced incidence of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease by 20 per cent.

Nevertheless, Retnakaran noted that lifestyle modification alone, including healthy nutrition and adequate exercise, can bring about a 58 per cent relative reduction in progression to diabetes.


Ways to Prevent Diabetes


Among the lifestyle modifications recommended by Diabetes Canada:

  • Eat more vegetables. These are very high in nutrients and low in calories
  • Include lean animal proteins such as fish, chicken, lean meats, low-fat cheese, eggs, dried beans and peas as part of your meal
  • Eat small portions of grains and starches including rice, potato, pasta, cereals, breads, corn
  • Eat three meals per day at regular times
  • Both aerobic and resistance exercises are important. Your goal should be to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week, (e.g. 30 minutes, five days a week). You may need to start slowly, with as little as five to 10 minutes of exercise per day or as recommended by your health care provider or qualified exercise specialist