We’ve seen people chewing betel quids, but do you have an idea that it can probably lead to diabetes?
Betel quid (paan) chewing is a common phenomenon in India. It has many bearings on a person's health including their metabolic and psycho-social health. As per the Indian College
of Physicians Position Statement on addictive disorders among those with diabetes, it is not
advisable to chew betel leaves regularly. The recommendations come in view of the public health and clinical importance of this addictive behaviour. Betel quid has been ranked the fourth most popular psychoactive substance globally, the top three being caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
While betel quid is traditionally believed to be a remedy for many health complaints including many digestive ailments, it has been shown to do more harm than good.
Areca nut contains a group of compounds called alkaloids, which are responsible for adrenaline stimulating and vasoconstricting (narrowing the blood vessels) effects. It is also said to leave behind a feeling of ecstasy or heightened well-being in users besides the trademark stain on the teeth. The main chemical is called arecoline, which has a harmful impact on the central nervous system.
Besides being associated with many types of oral cancers, this infamous substance has also been found to adversely affect the endocrine system leading to type 2 diabetes, obesity and infertility.
In recent population-based studies in Taiwan, it was found that betel nut chewing is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cerebrovascular deaths. In animals, a chemical in betel nut alters blood sugar levels.
Although human study is lacking in this area, caution is advised in people with diabetes or glucose intolerance, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare provider and medication adjustments may be necessary. It has also been proven to increase the problem of insulin resistance among those already suffering from diabetes.
Adding to the woes of betel lovers, betel quid has been correlated with many other metabolic syndromes including obesity and higher cholesterol levels. Ingredients in betel nut
can interact with other drugs, medicinal supplements, and herbal infusions as well, rendering them ineffective and leading to toxic reactions in the body. However, this claim is yet to be scientifically proven.
There are millions of people who consume betel quid and areca nut worldwide. According to a study, users reported that they chewed betel quid anywhere between 1 and 76 times a day. This, according to doctors, is not only a useless and harmful habit but also a plague on the economy of the nation, not only leading to pollution but also abuse of infrastructure. The Indian College of Physicians Position Statement on addictive disorders among people with diabetes has addressed this important aspect of health and clearly advice against chewing betel quid.
While the small gutka and paan masala packets strewn on the road may not be too bothersome, the red residue produced from chewing the betel quid, which is often spit out
ritualistically and rather carelessly is quite offensive and is definitely an eye sore. So chewing betel quid is an addiction that indeed needs to be kicked today.
By: DR. SANJAY KALRA
Consultant, Endocrinologist, Bharti Hospital, Karnal & Vice President, South Asian Federation of Endocrine Societies