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August 2, 2012 | 2 minute read

Cancer, Diabetes and Heart Disease: A Paradigm Shift

Patients with type 2 diabetes need to make a paradigm shift, and their doctors and other health providers can help them, according to AICR nutrition consultant Karen Collins, presenting yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer form a “triad of disease” says Collins. These three diseases share many common risk factors such as obesity, inflammation and insulin resistance, so we can’t think of them in isolation. How patients manage these diseases through lifestyle changes can help each of these diseases and lower risk for all three.

For example, people with type 2 diabetes often focus only on blood sugar control as the way to manage their disease, but that singular focus may not always lead to better overall health. High levels of insulin seem to promote some cancers, so using more and more insulin to manage blood sugar may, in the long run, increase cancer risk.

Health providers who see diabetes patients can help patients by emphasizing the big picture of health. For example, people with type 2 diabetes should know that fat is actually an active tissue in the body that produces substances, some of which can increase risk for other diseases.

The positive message here is that a healthy diet and exercise can make a difference in what happens. Here are Collins suggestions on how health providers and patients with type 2 diabetes can work together.

  1. Identify specific strategies to cut 500 calories every day to help with weight loss: for example, look at drink choices, decrease portion sizes or focus on mindless eating.
  2. Put low calorie density eating into practice. Find ways to substitute foods with fewer calories per bite such as vegetables, beans, whole grains and fruit for some foods that have added fats and sugars.
  3. Physical activity gives immediate and daily benefit because each little piece of physical activity helps lower insulin resistance. The American Diabetes Association recommendation is to go no more than 2 consecutive days without exercise for that reason.

The bottom line: patients with type 2 diabetes should expand their vision and your provider should help. By acting early with well-rounded care that includes screening and real life choices, patients can improve their overall health, including better type 2 diabetes management and lower risk for heart disease and cancer.

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