The trillion-dollar disease

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2011

If you're a politician a trillion dollars might not seem like much but to know that a single preventable disease will cost that amount is nearly incomprehensible. The disease is type 2 diabetes and the trillion is no exaggeration. To add to this fiscal frustration, as we get better at treating the most common and most serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, dementia and limb amputation, the more costly the added years of life become. There is no cure for diabetes or its complications. We can only slow down the progress of the damage. Worse, type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing in children. They face decades of disability, often unable to work or to contribute to the cost of their care.

Other costly risks are emerging among persons with type 2 diabetes. Compared to persons without the disease they are more likely to develop cancer of the breast, lung, colon, bladder, liver and ovary. Pneumonia and other infections are more common in persons with diabetes, partly because of poor blood supply to various organs or to disturbances of the immune system.

A decade ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that in the year 2050 29 million Americans would have diabetes. That number reached 23.6 million in 2007. In the National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2007 the CDC estimated that the direct and indirect costs of diabetes were $174 billion. It will certainly reach more than one-half trillion by 2050, nearly four decades from now. Other studies by the CDC suggest that one-third of middle-aged Americans in 2050 will have diabetes, a figure that outpaces the estimate calculated in 2001. Even the stunning figure of one trillion dollars per year may underestimate the true cost.

Although type 2 diabetes is not curable it is almost completely preventable. It is a misperception that type 2 diabetes is a genetic disease; only the predisposition is based on one's genetic make-up. This disease, nearly non-existent among Native Americans before 1930, is now their second leading cause of death. Clearly, their genes did not change but their lifestyle did.

Anyone, with very rare exceptions, can avoid type 2 diabetes. Maintain normal body fat by exercising an hour or more most days of the week while completely eliminating refined grains and sugars. There are other factors, to be sure, but they are minuscule compared to these.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.