The pancreas, he explained, is one of the body’s major endocrine organs. It secrets a hormone called insulin, which is critical in helping the body regulate and break down sugars and carbohydrates. The pancreas’ inability to secrete insulin or to secrete sufficient amounts leads to diabetes.
Zaidi has steadily tracked the aforementioned diabetes statistics for decades. The numbers themselves, he said, don’t tell the whole story of diabetes in the United States. “For every two patients diagnosed with diabetes,” he said, “there’s one who isn’t diagnosed. It’s an epidemic with no competitors.”
By 2050, he added, the number of diabetics in the United States is projected to increase to 88 million.
And those numbers don’t take into account the number of patients with “impaired glucose tolerance,” which is basically a pre-diabetic stage wherein the body does not break down glucose as efficiently as a normal, healthy individual. Patients with impaired glucose tolerance are teetering on the edge of full-blown diabetes.
“There are 79 million people in the United States with impaired glucose tolerance,” Zaidi said, adding that these patients, unlike diabetics, tend to be asymptomatic.
Exacerbating the problem, the number of Endocrinologists in the United States is startlingly low.
“Of 300 million people in the United States,” Zaidi said, “there are 4,000 endocrinologists. They are very expensive to train.”
As a result, only 5.9 percent of all diabetic prescriptions written in the United States each year are written by endocrinologists, meaning that dealing with and treating the disease is largely left up to primary care physicians (PCP).
“The PCP is the gatekeeper,” Zaidi said. “They must be effective listeners.”
As a doctor, Zaidi said it’s not hard to understand the reasons for the diabetes epidemic in this country.
“We exercise less,” he said, “and we eat food we shouldn’t eat.”