Two studies in Quebec are offering fresh hope for people with diabetes.
Some 2,000 people with diabetes from various parts of the province are taking part in an ongoing study headed by Dr. Norbert Schmitz, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal. These studies are exploring the link between depression, disability and type 2 diabetes. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Clinical Practice Guidelines, symptoms of depression are common in people with diabetes compared with the general population, and major depression is present in approximately 15 per cent of people with diabetes.
“Even a low level of depressive symptoms can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney disease and vision disorders,” Dr. Schmitz says.
His two-part study, funded in part by the Association, questions participants each year on their mood, smoking, exercise, perceptions of neighbourhood safety, access to good food and levels of social contact and support.
“If a lot of people in their neighbourhood smoke, it’s hard to stop,” notes Dr. Schmitz. Smoking is a known risk factor for future complications of diabetes, he says, and typical smoking cessation programs may not work on people living with diabetes.
“Stress and depression make it harder to quit,” Dr. Schmitz says. Findings also show that when they have few parks nearby, people are not able to take part in physical activity, while unsafe neighbourhoods can lead to isolation and fear. The associated stress can cause those with diabetes to ignore treatment guidelines, become overweight and stop measuring their blood glucose levels.
Dr. Schmitz hopes his findings will lead to new treatment approaches. “We want changes in government treatment guidelines that will focus on all aspects of life,” he explains. “When we talk about low blood glucose levels, we need to take the patient’s living environment into account.”
The study includes a focus on people who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods but nevertheless fare well, he adds. “Increased family support, for example, is important information we can use to assist others.”
“We want changes in government treatment guidelines that will focus on all aspects of life. When we talk about low blood glucose levels, we need to take the patient’s living environment into account.”
Another study looks at ways to treat complications of diabetes that can lead to amputations. Canadians living with diabetes are 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for limb amputations than those without the disease, Association statistics show.
Half of all amputees with diabetes die within five years of such surgery from heart and kidney complications, says Dr. Pedro Miguel Geraldes, an assistant professor at the University of Sherbrooke.
Dr. Geraldes is studying howhigh blood glucose interferes in healing damaged blood vessels, and says he’s had amazing results. “The removal of a particular protein in blood generates new blood vessels in diabetic mice and prevents leg necrosis (death of living tissues or cells) and amputation,” he says. His lab has identified the specific protein involved, protein kinase C delta, which is activated by high blood glucose levels in vascular cells.
“Most amputations are caused by cholesterol plaque in the femoral (main leg) artery,” Dr. Geraldes explains. “This gets blocked, creating a loss of blood supply to the leg.”
A person’s body will normally create new blood vessels to go around the blockage, but in patients with diabetes this process is completely shut down.
“For people living with diabetes, a simple cut can become infected, can’t heal because of blocked blood supply, and soon we have to take off a toe. Then it moves up, and often will go to the other leg,” Dr. Geraldes says.
He estimates that within about five years, his research will lead to the testing of a new drug for blood vessel complications to help patients with diabetes.
In the last year alone, the Association has provided more than $7 million to world-class diabetes research. For more information, visit www.diabetes.ca/research.
Diabetes Champion: Mark Kerwin
Working with the Canadian Diabetes Association and his health-care team, however, Mr. Kerwin has progressed from that life-threatening situation to now running marathons for Team Diabetes, a national program that encourages participants to lead a healthy and active lifestyle while raising funds and awareness for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
“It has been amazing,” he says of his journey. “So many good people have helped me. I am very proactive: I try to eat the best nutrition I can, and I work with a personal trainer. I am also trying to change work culture around health and wellness, because it is where people spend most of their time.”
In January 2011, a friend asked Mr. Kerwin to run a half-marathon. “I’d never been a runner, but I thought it sounded like a great way to get me out of my chair,” he says.
Since then, he’s run two half-marathons and his first full marathon in Brazil in July. On his 40th birthday, he ran the “Around the Bay 30k” in Hamilton. “I finished in four hours and 30 minutes,” he reports.
His participation in Team Diabetes has made him feel so much more connected to the diabetes community, he says. “I decided I wanted to raise $100,000 for the Canadian Diabetes Association through Team Diabetes.”
He is already almost a quarter of the way there. His goal is to run two marathons a year for Team Diabetes, starting with the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon in December
For more information on how you can achieve your personal fitness goals while making a difference for over nine million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes, please visit