Diabetes specialists advocate lifestyle changes to combat disease

Dr. Marwan Hamaty of NDORI gives his presentation on treating and managing diabetes to a class of medical professionals in Biloxi.
Dr. Marwan Hamaty of NDORI gives his presentation on treating and managing diabetes to a class of medical professionals in Biloxi. Special to the Sun Herald

New medications are on the horizon to help people combat and live with diabetes, but two diabetes experts who were on the Coast last week told continuing education medical students the best defense comes down to lifestyle changes.

“We’ve had a plethora of new medications coming out, but at the end of the day, it’s still going to be good old diet and exercise and the concept of trying to inculcate that into the social framework of what we do and how we do things,” said Dr. Adi Mehta before speaking to about 30 physicians and health practitioners representing the Coastal Family Health clinics, Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.

He said medications are only part of the solution in the overall effort to fight the growth of diabetes in the population.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “they are just Band-Aids while we’re waiting for the real effects to work if we don’t manage to inculcate these habits into the framework of what we’re doing.”

Mississippi is the frontline

The war on diabetes has drawn a frontline on the Coast and leading health officials say senior citizens are among the most susceptible to contracting the disease.

To help combat the growing problem, the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic of Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute joined forces with Tradition to educate and enlighten local health practitioners on updated methods of approaching, treating and defeating the ills of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

On Friday, two of their organizations’ top endocrinologists, Mehta and Dr. Marwan Hamaty, visited the Coast to conduct continuing medical education classes on diabetes.

A morning session was at the Swetman Building in downtown Biloxi and the afternoon class was at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.

Diabetes affiliate coming to Tradition

The two world-renowned Cleveland entities had recently worked a formal agreement to set up a new affiliate base at Tradition about 10 miles north of Biloxi — part of the city’s expanding medical community.

Mehta and Hamaty lectured the classes on new and updated concepts of detecting how certain elements in the body can cause — but also curtail — diabetes, along with what oral medications can be prescribed to patients.

Additionally, they informed about combining social engineering with medicine not only to treat Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but also to outright prevent it and possibly eliminate it altogether.

Holistic approach

The doctors went further in promoting a more holistic approach to treating diabetes than a medical vantage point.

They recommended working with city governments to establish more sidewalks, jogging parks and bicycle lanes to develop a healthier environment and culture that would motivate people to make better lifestyle choices.

“There’s a genetic component and the environment,” Hamaty said. “The genetic component alone is not adequate for the progression against diabetes. It also is the environment along with diet and exercise. We can impact much lower incidents of diabetes, and with that we can help them to live healthier and live well.

“It’s important that the patient is feeling well, not having the complications, able to treat diabetes with the least number of medications, with less side effects and less cost. Medication may work for a day or two, a month or two or year or two, then we’ll be adding more medication and losing efficiency.”

Top-ranked facilities

The National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute based in Tradition is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic, which is rated No. 3 in the nation for diabetes care by U.S. News and World.

Its work caught the attention of Joseph C. Canizaro, Tradition’s primary real estate developer and philanthropist, who’s envisioning building a “medical city.”

“He looked for establishing a relationship with one of the top diabetes centers in the U.S. and he found us,” said Ron Gambino, administrative director at Cleveland Clinic. “We are now affiliated and helping the citizens of the Gulf Coast with NDORI.”

Ground zero for diabetes

Mississippi and surrounding states have been considered ground zero for the diabetes epidemic. Mississippi leads the nation in diabetes with 15.4 percent of the population suffering from the disease.

Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas are close behind.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 29 million people have been diagnosed with it.

But diabetes is turning into more of an international epidemic. Mehta gave his observation on the reason, associated with the concept of “starvation preparation.”

“If you go back into history, we were supposed to be prepared for starvation,” he said. “If your body is prepared for starvation and you suddenly get into an overly nutritious environment, you’ve lost your balance. Under these circumstances, you’re going to have the problem with obesity. We were never supposed to be rich.”

Senior citizens at risk

While Hamaty said seniors are the most prevalent to contract diabetes, he added: “It is typically associated with age and it gets more prevalent as we get older. However, the one thing that is happening in this country is that age number is getting lower and starting to affect the younger population more. It is as preventive in the older population as the young population.

“The actual strategy is pretty much the same with the older as it is the younger with the lifestyle management as the most effective. Adding some medication to it is helpful but the cornerstone is the lifestyle management.”

Deborah Colby is program director at the NDORI office in Tradition.

“This is just the beginning,” Colby said. “Bringing this level of medical expertise to our area is just one step toward our goal of curing diabetes not only in Mississippi, but across the nation. We are reaching out to other hospitals and clinics in the region and asking them to join us in the fight to stop the diabetes epidemic.

“We are starting ultimately at a coastal level to begin with, and then with growth and development with the Cleveland Clinic, spread it throughout the state.”