Science & Technology

Insulin delivery tech transforms eating habits beyond the syringe

Living with diabetes is about more than just managing symptoms; it’s about adapting to a new way of life. For individuals with diabetes, one of the primary concerns is their restricted diet, which often means they need to be diligent in choosing foods and pay close attention to their overall eating habits.

Patient studies have shown that individuals with Type One Diabetes (T1D), a condition in which the pancreas does not produce any insulin, often exhibit disordered eating behaviours. The disease worsens conditions like emotional eating and uncontrollable eating, particularly among women, young adults, and teenagers.

Nevertheless, advancements in automated insulin delivery (AID) have been instrumental in reducing the challenges linked to eating disorders caused by the need to regulate glucose levels for patients living with diabetes. 

A recently published paper titled “Does Insulin Delivery Technology Change Our Relationship with Foods? A Scoping Review” features insights into the potential impacts of technology for people with T1D. 

Meryem Talbo, a registered dietitian pursuing a PhD at McGill’s School of Human Nutrition, worked on the review alongside a group of Canadian researchers.

“Before beginning this research, as a dietitian, I had doubts about the prevalence of diabetes and its influence on people’s nutritional behaviours,” Talbo said in an interview with The Tribune. 

She highlighted her keen interest in the progressive enhancements in interventions for chronic health conditions, specifically in applying artificial intelligence to nutritional health.

“AID can reduce the challenges of disease burnout. People with diabetes often feel overwhelmed by the constant task of counting carbs and monitoring their intake, leading them to prioritize carb counting over considering other food components,” Talbo said.

As the study documents, individuals with diabetes are mostly focused on the amount of carbohydrates, including sugars, present in their diet, which results in hesitation and restricted choices.

Carbohydrate counting requires individuals to calculate the grams of glucose in food before consumption. If an individual cannot count carbohydrates themselves, their healthcare provider may recommend a fixed amount of carbohydrates to help avoid hyperglycemia—a sudden rise in body glucose—which may cause overactive glucose shocks that lead to a short-term coma. 

The use of AID mitigates the risk of hypoglycemia by monitoring glucose levels every five minutes and administering insulin to stabilize them as needed.

“You no longer have to be too strict with yourself [….] you get more of a sense of freedom and flexibility with your eating,” Talbo explained. 

The study had a positive outcome, demonstrating that individuals with diabetes have adopted more flexible eating patterns. Nevertheless, more research is necessary to confirm this finding. 

Talbo also raised her concerns about the potential limitations of research on the applications of artificial intelligence and its impact on people’s eating habits.

“AID has undoubtedly improved in terms of reliability over the past few years. However, due to the approximate five-minute time required to read CGM [continuous glucose monitoring] values, it is not entirely dependable, as unpredictable events can occur within that time frame,” Talbo explained.

Although health technologies can be a valuable resource, the possibility of malfunctioning or delayed effects is worrisome for individuals with diabetes, leading them to consider tools like AID as additional support rather than a panacea.

This research not only showcases the impact of AID, it also underscores how advancements in insulin delivery technologies can make space for a deeper discussion among patients and dietitians. 

“We can help with dietary schedules, suggest satisfying foods for cravings, and not just focus on daily carb intake and what to avoid.”

This technology also holds promise as an effective tool for children at risk of developing T1D, providing valuable assistance in managing their health. With a plethora of tempting food options and constantly changing environments, AID may be able to help children be flexible with their diet and reduce mental strain.

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