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Finding the link between diabetes and kidney failure in First Nations people

By Braden Dupuis, Leader-Post

REGINA — More than 20 years after it was found that First Nations people with diabetes were at a higher risk of kidney failure than non-First Nations people, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan believe they’ve finally found an explanation.

“Because First Nations people are so much younger when they develop diabetes in the first place, they’re simply more likely to live long enough to develop these complications — like kidney failure,” said Dr. Roland Dyck, one of the authors of a study published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The researchers used data compiled by the provincial government over the past few decades to put together the study.

“We weren’t able to really look at this particular question until recently because it takes so many years and decades for people with diabetes to develop these problems,” Dyck said.

“You need to have access to data that covers that kind of time period.”

Once the data had been collected, it was just a matter of finding the pattern.

“It wasn’t just playing around with data to see what we could come up with,” Dyck said.

“This has been a very systematic approach to this problem that we’ve been looking at for many years.”

To come to their conclusion, the researchers examined 90,000 adult diabetes cases in the province between 1980 and 2005.

What they found was that First Nations people were being diagnosed, on average, 15 years younger than non-First Nations people.

There could be many reasons for that, Dyck said, including drastic changes in lifestyle over the past century and the effects of poverty and substandard living conditions.

“All of these so-called social determinants of health really play into higher rates of obesity, and ultimately higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes,” Dyck said.

The researchers also found that First Nations women are also much more likely to develop gestational diabetes — diabetes that occurs during pregnancy — which, in turn, puts their children at a higher risk for diabetes, Dyck said.

The findings give Canadian physicians a better idea of how to approach the treatment and prevention of diabetes, Dyck said.

“We need to try to approach diseases like diabetes from more of a chronic disease management perspective rather than just intervening when there’s an acute medical crisis,” he said.

Early screening procedures, along with regular appointments and tests, will go a long way to prevent long-term complications, Dyck said.

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