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    Growing Diabetes: Agriculture’s Role in Chronic Disease

    By Meg Adelman, RN, BSN, MPH, Navitas Organics Wellness Director | November 6, 2017

    Growing Diabetes: Agriculture’s Role in Chronic Disease

    Chances are, if you asked a room full of people for a show of hands if they either have Diabetes or have a loved one or friend affected by the disease, the overwhelming majority would raise their arms up high. A recent report from the CDC indicates that 30 million people – nearly 10% of the U.S. population – are living with Diabetes and approximately 24% are undiagnosed but symptomatic. These numbers are mainly indicative of Type 2 or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM), which accounts for nearly 95% of all cases. NIDDM, which results in cellular insulin resistence whereby cells don’t receive necessary glucose needed for energy, can be prevented and often reversed through proper weight management and healthy eating behaviors. In contrast, Type 1 or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) accounts for only 5% of cases and is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that destroys the cells responsible for producing insulin – the hormone that ushers glucose into the cells for metabolism. The result in both cases is an excess of glucose in the blood stream, compromising the vascular system and inducing an inflammatory state that negatively impacts all major organs, especially the heart. Heart disease is the number one killer for those with Diabetes, which is why early management of the disease is critical.

    The main culprit? An excess of simple carbohydrates in the diet.

    The relationship between the history of U.S. agricultural practices and chronic metabolic diseases like Diabetes is not merely coincidence. Since the 1940s, government prioritization and financial support for increased production over quality has taken its toll on population health. Commody crops like corn, wheat and soybean have perpetuated the production of processed foods made with an abundance of these ingredients, promoting the evolution of a simple carbohydrate food revolution. Unfortunately, this disproportionately affects low income populations since the cheapest foods available are also the least nutritious.

    Recent studies have shown that not only are these agricultural practices impacting crop yield, but the food being cultivated under our current farming practices has reduced nutrient profiles due to degraded soil health and chemical contamination. Additionally, a study examining nutrient density of crops reveals that increased heat and subsequent CO2 production are promoting excessive growth patterns in crops, which is also contributing to decreased nutrient density. We aren’t getting the necessary macronutrients we need and instead are getting an excess of simple carbohydrates that potentiate disease! It should come as no surprise that our current agriculture practices contribute to an estimated one-third of the greenhouse gases being permeated into the atmosphere. Perhaps all of this is meant to elucidate the point – there is a far better way to produce food that is both healthy for people and healthy for the planet at the same time.

    Indeed, we have a significant uphill battle to dismantle the stronghold that Big Agriculture business has on the production and favoritism towards these problematic crops. Policies around food quality and sustainability will need to be prioritized to see a significant reduction in Diabetes cases worldwide. Perhaps monetary or tax incentives will work better than regulations to encourage the production and consumption of healthier crops all the way down to the consumer level. The Standard American Diet (with the all-too-appropriate acroynym, SAD) needs a huge overhaul, but will only happen when healthy options become cheaper and more accessible to the masses.

    The earlier you make changes to correct blood sugar dysregulation the better, as major damage to the vascular system and organs can be mitigated. The following symptoms could indicate a problem and it is important to seek medical attention right away if you experience any of the following:
        • Excessive thirst and urination
        • Dizziness
        • Fatigue
        • Blurry vision
        • Insatiable hunger
        • Rapid weight loss
        • Numbness (late sign)
        • Impaired healing of cuts or bruises
        • Bleeding gums

    Prevention is key and there are numerous ways to support your path to a healthier lifestyle, including:
        • Exercise
        • Commit to a plant-based diet that is rich in whole grains and low in animal proteins
        • Eat fresh foods, cook at home whenever possible and avoid processed, fast foods and sugary beverages
        • Maintain a normal weight for your body type

    Most importantly, take a stand for population health by reaching out to your representative to express your concerns about the upcoming Farm Bill that is expected to pass in 2018. This landmark piece of legislation accounts for nearly $500 billion, with close to 80% covering government-assisted nutrition programs and the remaining 20% covering farm insurance, commodities and subsidies. We need to tip the scale in the direction of organic and sustainable farming practices, and incentivize stewards of the land to create healthier food that is affordable for all people [learn more here].

    Mass mobilization toward healthy eating will shift market demand, so educate yourself and those around you on the importance of making informed choices when it comes to diet. By supporting local farmers, you’ll help to reduce the footprint of energy consumption of getting food to your plate while ensuring the quality and nutrient density. When you eat fresh, local and sustainable food, everybody wins.