(NaturalNews) Nearly one-third of all people hospitalized in California have diabetes, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles, with support from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
"For far too many families, diabetes has become a common and painful reality," said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. "In very stark terms, this study shows local health care providers and policymakers the enormity of the diabetes epidemic in their counties."
Major public health concern
Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar, and can lead to a wide variety of serious complications. It is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure in adults, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and can cause nerve damage that sometimes leads to amputation. Nationwide, it is directly responsible for 70,000 deaths a year.
It is one of the fastest growing and most expensive diseases in the United States, with the number of cases tripling since 1980 to its current rate of 20.9 million. In California, where the study took place, diabetes case have increased 35 percent in just the last 10 years.
In the new study, researchers examined the discharge records for all hospitalized Californians over the age of 34, constituting the majority of hospitalizations in the state. Of these patients, 31 percent were diabetic.
The rate was even higher among nonwhite ethnic groups, with 38.7 percent of Asian-American/Pacific Islander patients, 39.3 percent of African American patients, 40.3 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native patients and 43.2 percent of Latino patients suffering from diabetes.
Although many of the patients were not hospitalized because of their diabetes, the disease was responsible for significantly higher treatment costs, as diabetic patients require special care. The researchers calculated that each diabetic patient cost the healthcare system an extra $2,200, coming out to $1.6 billion per year in California alone. Three-quarters of that amount is paid by Medicare or Medical (the state Medicaid program).
"If you have diabetes, you are more likely to be hospitalized, and your stay will cost more," lead author Ying-Ying Meng said. "There is now overwhelming evidence to show that diabetes is devastating not just to patients and families but to the whole health care system."
Although type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease for which the cause is unclear, type 2 diabetes is an acquired condition caused primarily by an unhealthy lifestyle - and is by far the most common form of the disease.
"What makes the study's findings particularly tragic is that 95 percent of diabetes cases are preventable," Goldstein said. "By reducing added sugar in our diets, increasing physical activity and making early diabetes screening a priority, we could significantly reduce diabetes cases and save billions of dollars in health care costs."
Studies have shown that the most effective ways to reduce diabetes are to have a healthy weight, exercise at least 30 minutes per day, drink about three alcoholic beverages per week, not smoke, and eat a healthy diet - low in processed sugars and high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as those from nuts and olive oil. In one study, participants who were assigned to a weight loss group were 58 percent less likely to have developed diabetes three years later than participants assigned to a control group.
In addition, various natural foods and supplements have been shown to lower the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon in particular has been linked to reduced insulin resistance, lowered blood sugar and lower cholesterol.