Diabetes experts stress diet therapy at summit

Doctors must counsel diabetic patients, as well as those at risk of contracting the disease, about the "miracles" a healthy diet can produce.

DUBAI // Doctors must counsel diabetic patients, as well as those at risk of contracting the disease, about the "miracles" a healthy diet can produce, experts at a health summit said yesterday. "People don't understand that nutrition conditions our lives, and we eat automatically without thinking of what we are eating, which is catastrophic," said Prof Patrizio Tatti, a diabetes and endocrinology expert from Italy.

"If we intervene at an early stage with diet and exercise before Type 2 diabetes becomes full blown, we can avoid the development of the disease and control it." Prof Tatti was speaking at the Total Nutrition Therapy for Diabetes Summit, being hosted by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) at the Grand Hyatt Dubai hotel. The first of its kind in the region, the summit addressed the need for a multidisciplinary approach to treating diabetes, combining the efforts of doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, psychologists, social workers and nurses specialised in diabetic care.

The DHA has made medical nutritional therapy a compulsory component of diabetes treatment. Dr Wafaa Ayesh, the director of the clinical nutrition department, said patients needed to realise that although diabetes is a chronic disease that cannot be cured, it can be safely controlled. "The practice of medical nutritional therapy on diabetic patients does miracles," said Dr Ayesh. "We have had excellent results in helping obese children who are insulin resistant drop weight and change lifestyle habits, thus preventing them from contracting diabetes."

Through weight loss achieved by physical activity and a better diet, patients with diabetes are even able to decrease their medication and insulin intake, said Dr Ayesh, which in turn, "prevents their body from ingesting more chemicals and dealing with the side effects of medication". The UAE has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world, affecting one in four individuals. Many of these diabetics will develop heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness and even have to have their feet amputated.

Nutritional therapy can mitigate many of these complications, not to mention the disease itself, said Prof Tatti. "Insisting that a patient is taking his or her medication is not enough; doctors must address nutrition and lifestyle modifications." According to Prof Tatti, 30 per cent of all patients take their medications as they should. The same percentage will commit to a diet and physical activity regimen as advised by their doctor, he said.

"However, doctors only insist on medication, which is not enough," said Prof Tatti. @Email:hkhalaf@thenational.ae