I'm David Hite, PhD, a member of the
American Association of Diabetes Educators. I provide Diabetes
Education classes for a large non-profit healthcare organization in Sacramento, California.
I know that most of you can't attend my diabetes class in person at the
clinic, so I've created an educational Diabetes Basics DVD and this Diabetes Basics: Questions and Answers section to help you understand
Type-2 Diabetes, and learn how you can take control of your diabetes or
offer needed help to a friend or loved one who may be struggling to avoid
the medical complications that often come with this disease. This
information is also perfect for those of you who have pre-diabetes and want
to reverse those symptoms and avoid progression to diabetes. Good health.
Questions and Answers about Diabetes Self-Care
Diabetes is a chronic condition. It’s not
yet curable. But we do know some secrets to help you stay healthy and avoid
diabetic complications. Your doctor is a very important part of staying
healthy, so visit and have blood tests 2-3 times each year so you can spot
potential problems early and to make sure you're still on track. But also
remember what you do for yourself when you leave the doctor is just as
important as anything your doctor can do. The secret involves taking
control of your diabetes by following the 5 M’s of diabetes care.
Sounds simple, but you all know that diabetes is a complex and frustrating
medical condition. There’s a lot to learn, but the more you know, the
easier it will be to stay healthy. I hope this section helps answer some of
your questions and sets you on the road to good health.
are the steps I need to know about to help control my blood sugars?
can begin to take control and live well with diabetes by following these 5
M's of diabetic care outlined below.
Monitor – Learn how to check blood
sugars and use those numbers to gauge your progress and know when to make
healthy changes to your plan.
Meals – Eat healthy nutritious meals.
Learn which foods help stabilize blood sugars and what foods to eat with
care. Learn the importance of portion control to avoid what I call Portion
Use physical activity and exercise to lose weight; to increase your
strength, stamina, and balance; to help burn off excess sugars, and
increase your energy levels.
Medication– Learn what each medicine does and
which ones may be most appropriate for you. Learn how and when to take them
so they are most effective and minimize the possibility of side effects.
Motivation– Living with a chronic condition is
difficult. Many people feel overwhelmed and struggle to take action. Every
day you face challenges that can wear you down. Depression is three times
more common in people with diabetes than in the general population. Learn
strategies for making healthy lifestyle changes and where to get support in
I have so much sugar in my blood why do I feel so tired and hungry all the
you have diabetes, sugars are trapped in the blood in high amounts. Your
cells aren't absorbing sugar properly, and that’s why you may feel hungry
and lack energy much of the time. Your body cells are crying out for
nourishment despite having sugar all around them. It’s easy for a person
with diabetes to overeat in response to these “hunger feelings” and gain
weight. This weight gain, especially when the weight is held in the belly
area, actually predisposes a person to diabetes and makes it harder to
control once you have it because it increases insulin resistance.
This inability to use insulin properly causes the pancreas to work harder
and tire sooner. Lowering insulin resistance is one of the most important
keys to successful diabetes management. Click this link to watch your
pancreas in action.
are the different kinds of diabetes?
are two major types; 1 and 2, and two less common types; type 1.5 (LADA),
and gestational diabetes. All types of diabetes result in the loss of blood
sugar control and involve the action of the hormone insulin, but each type
has very different root causes. Insulin is a hormone produced by cells on
the pancreas, an organ that sits just behind your stomach. Insulin works
like a chemical key to open pores in the cell wall. All of the cells in
your body have a wall that holds them together, but because cells are
alive, nutrients must be allowed to pass through this covering and move
into the cell. It’s the job of insulin to open this cell “door” so that the
nutrients in the food you eat can pass from the blood into the cell and be
burned for energy or used for growth and repair.
Insulin, the key to the door, is normally
released by the pancreas every time blood sugars begin to rise. The more
sugar in the blood, the more insulin has to be produced so you can properly
absorb those sugars. Diabetes occurs when a person is no longer able to
produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced is ineffective in
delivering blood sugars into the cell.
Formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile
diabetes, results from an autoimmune response by the body that destroys the
insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas leading to insulin deficiency.
Occurs early in life, generally before age 20, and has a rapid onset of
symptoms. Blood sugar is controlled by daily insulin injections.
Formerly known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or adult onset
diabetes. Insulin resistance and obesity are contributing factors.
Generally slow onset. Often initially controlled by diet and exercise.
· Type-1.5 (LADA):
Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults. Slow onset of symptoms with
progressive loss of insulin producing beta cells. Insulin resistance is
often absent. Sometimes called "double Diabetes" when it shares
traits of both type-1 (loss of insulin production) and type-2 (insulin
Elevated blood sugars and diabetic symptoms during pregnancy. Often
disappear after delivery. Usually controlled with insulin injections.
know a young child that was diagnosed with diabetes. Is this type-1
most likely. Type-1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes because
it usually affects children and young people, under the age of 20. It
occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin altogether (they are missing
the “key”). This is the result of an autoimmune reaction within the body.
The persons very own protective immune system mistakenly targets
insulin-producing cells on the pancreas and kills them. Normally your
immune system is programmed to attack only foreign cells like bacteria and
viruses and knows not to attack cells that are part of your own body. We
don’t know why the body gets confused, but once the insulin-producing cells
are targeted and killed, insulin will have to be supplied to the body by
way of injection. (Insulin is destroyed by stomach acid, so it can’t be
Continuing research into the cause of has
found a promising link between a viral infection and type-1 diabetes. In
one recent study 83% of children newly diagnosed with type-1 showed the
presence of an enterovirus in their system. Only 7% of healthy children had
the virus. This is certainly not conclusive evidence, there are no doubt
other factors involved, but this discovery is a hopeful sign that one day
early signs of risk can be identified and corrective measures taken before
the insulin producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed.
type is more common?
diabetes, sometime called noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or
adult-onset diabetes, is by far the most common type. 285 million people
worldwide suffer from type-2 diabetes. India has the greatest number
with 50 million. Of the 24 million people in the U.S. with diabetes 23 million
have type-2. It usually occurs later in life, typically after the age of 40
(Though due to the dramatic increase in childhood obesity, many younger
people are now being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. Ninety percent of all
people with type-2 diabetes have gained significant weight around their
mid-section prior to diagnosis). In type-2 diabetes insulin is still being
produced by the pancreas, but it’s no longer effective in lowering blood
sugars because the cell receptors that open the doors to the inside of the
cells seem to be stuck shut. This condition is called insulin
Trapped sugars in your blood indicate
that your body has lost its ability to properly absorb the fuels you eat.
The normal amount of sugar found circulating in the blood 12 hours after
eating would be 99 or less (measured in milligrams of sugar in each
deciliter of blood). A 12-hour fasting blood sugar of 100 to 125 indicates
that your body is struggling to control blood sugars and is called
“pre-diabetes”. A level of 126 or higher in two separate tests establishes
the clinical diagnosis of diabetes.
just been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes; will I have to inject myself with
not for many years, though you may benefit from some oral diabetic
medications (pills). We will discuss diabetic medications later in this
book. Ironically, most people with type-2 diabetes actually have elevated
insulin levels in the years prior to diagnosis. During this time the body
is over-producing insulin in an effort to keep blood sugars under control
(Insulin has lost its effectiveness because of insulin resistance. Normal
amounts of insulin can no longer get the job done). Excess belly fat
surrounding organs in the abdomen, clearly plays some role in insulin
resistance. Whether this belly fat is the cause or the result of insulin
resistance is unclear.
What does seem clear is that a sedentary
lifestyle, and years of eating diets loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates,
and unhealthy fats (animal and trans-fats), causes us to gain weight,
especially in the belly. This accumulated fat may simply gum up the doors
to the cells. This puts so much pressure on the pancreas that it wears out
prematurely. Your pancreas has been working overtime, probably for many
years, making extra insulin to keep your sugars down. It’s only after the
pancreas tires and begins to slow down, a condition called "insulin
fatigue," that blood sugars begin to rise and diabetes is
diagnosed. Focus now on reducing insulin resistance to reduce the pressure
on your pancreas. This may help preserve its function and prevent further
sure that my diabetes was caused by the steroids my doctor gave me when I
had a bad asthma attack.
such as prednisone, used to reduce inflammation, can cause "steroid
induced diabetes". In my experience this usually only happens to
people who have already suffered some loss of function in their pancreas.
The steroids increase insulin resistance so that the pancreas has to work
even harder and this tips the balance and leads to outright diabetes. So
I'd say that the steroids didn't cause your diabetes, but they did
accelerate your progression to it.
doctor just diagnosed me with gestational diabetes. Will it go away after
my son is born? Does it mean I will get diabetes for sure later in life?
of diabetes (elevated blood sugars) will often disappear following birth,
but this doesn't mean that all's well. In the research I've seen, 23% of
women with gestational diabetes progressed to clinically diagnosed type-2
diabetes during the ten year period following birth. During the stress of
pregnancy the pancreas has shown that it is somewhat weak and vulnerable.
Whether you progress to full blown diabetes has a lot to do with how you
take care of yourself. Pamper your pancreas. The "early
warning" message you got during pregnancy should spur you to be
diligent with healthy eating habits, exercise and weight loss throughout
the rest of your life.
know someone that had weight loss surgery and their blood sugar went back
to normal. Are they cured?
We usually say they are in "remission". During their surgery,
called bariatric surgery, the stomach is divided and a small pouch is
created for food. The small intestine is then cut and re-routed. The lower
part of the intestine (ileum) is connected to the newly formed pouch while
the upper part (duodenum) is reattached further down. Why this normalizes
blood sugars is still unclear. We know that a gut hormone called
glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) secreted by the intestine plays a key role.
The GLP-1 hormone is now being used as a therapy in type-2 diabetes. Byetta
(exenatide) and Victoza (liraglutide) are examples.
Note-I want to stress to my readers that
this surgery should not be taken lightly. It irreversible and not without
risk of post-surgery complications. It should only be considered when all
other health related factors indicate that a patient has greater health
risks without the surgery.
doctor says that excess sugars in my blood will eventually damage my body.
isn’t poison. It’s the main fuel for your body. We all need some
sugar in our blood. Sugar is a highly reactive fuel that's supposed to
leave your stomach quickly, travel through the blood, and then be absorbed
into your hungry cells and burned for energy. The issue for maintaining
good health is managing how much sugar is in the blood at any time
and for how long. You see sugar is a great energy source, but it’s also
corrosive. Trapped sugars in the blood accelerate the corrosive damage to
blood vessels and leads to the breakdown of important body tissues and to
the diabetic complications that cause failing health.
I like to use rusting to describe
what goes on in your blood when sugars are not controlled. Rusting is a
slow destructive process that takes time to develop and is easy to
overlook. But if allowed to progress unchecked, it can cause the eventual
destruction of things like a bike or mower. Knowing this, we protect our
possessions by keeping them out of the elements. That way we reduce the
risk that rust is going to do any serious damage. In the same way knowing
how to use the 5 M's of diabetic care to help self-regulate your blood
sugars and keep them in a healthier range, you'll be able to avoid most of
the corrosive damage associated with diabetes and lower our risk of
sugar is so corrosive why don’t all people have damage to their bodies?
do! We can measure the corrosive damage caused by sugar in everyone, even
if they don’t have diabetes, by using a simple blood test called hemoglobin
A1c (abbreviated hgbA1c). Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen
and makes blood red. (You may be familiar with this test and I hope you’re
able to have it done several times each year) Your red blood cells live
about 3 months, so it’s a convenient way to measure the amount of damage
(glycation) present and determine average blood sugar levels during the 3
months before the test. A person without diabetes will have between 4.5%
and 5.5% damage to their red blood cells (hemoglobin) from the corrosive
effect of sugar. This normal level of blood sugar causes little damage and
is easily repaired in a healthy person. I've worked with uncontrolled
diabetic patients with hgbA1c damage as high as 17%. This means that blood
sugar has been nearly 500 for the past 3 months.
Remember this test also tells us that the
protein structure of your blood vessels themselves is being damaged
in the same way, and it’s this high level of blood vessel damage that
causes diabetic complications. A healthy hgbA1c for a person with diabetes
is somewhere below 7%. That means blood sugars are averaging about 155.
This is still in a range that is considered diabetic, but research shows
that when corrosive damage is kept low like this, your body can keep up
with the repair to your blood and blood vessels and the risk for diabetic
complications is significantly lower. So it’s fair to say that it’s uncontrolled
diabetes that leads to damage and failed health, because the damage is
happening faster than your body can repair it.
below shows how the risk of complications increases as blood sugar rises.
Work hard to keep your hemoglobin A1c below 7% and you will most likely
avoid severe diabetic complications.
My hgbA1c is just about 7, but my glucometer says
my 30 day average is 132. What gives?
people check their sugars before meals, so the average shown on your meter
is measuring blood sugars at their lowest. The tests your doctor uses also
takes into account the rise in blood sugars after your meals. This
measurement is called eAG (estimated average glucose) and it relates to
your hemoglobin A1c (hgbA1c). It is the average amount of sugar in the
blood both before and after a meal that would account for the amount of
hemoglobin damage seen.
how do I regulate my blood sugars?
must learn to control your blood sugars manually. For most of your life
your body was on “cruise control”, and the amount of sugar in your blood
was controlled in a very narrow range. But now this sugar cruise control is
broken. Your pancreas is no longer automatically controlling your blood
sugars. Now you need to take control, and to do that you need to understand
the factors that affect blood sugar and how you can make healthy changes
that will make it easier for you to self-regulate your sugars and
keep them in a healthier range. The first step is twice a day Monitoring
of your blood sugars (like driving a car with broken cruise control you
need to check your gauges to monitor your speed and then make manual
adjustments to avoid problems).
*** Remember low blood sugar is
more immediately dangerous than a mildly elevated reading. If your blood
sugar is less than 80 when you check, it's time to eat something. If your
sugar reading is less than 70 or you're experiencing symptoms and feeling
shaky, sweaty or weakness, eat 15 grams of fast acting sugar (30 grams if
it's below 50), such as 1/3 can of regular soda, or half a glass of orange
juice or 4 glucose tabs, available at any drug store, then check again in
about 15 minutes. If it's still low take 15 more grams. The general rule is
that 15 grams of sugar should raise your blood sugar about 50 points, so
don't over do it (a full can of soda has 40 grams of sugar!). After your
blood sugar reading is over 80 or symptoms subside, eat a small snack with
some protein in it to keep your sugar stable.
doctor told me I'm only borderline diabetic and that I don't have to do
anything right now.
due respect to your doctor, but this is precisely the time to do something!
When your fasting blood sugar is between 100 and 125 the proper term is pre-diabetes.
Your pancreas is clearly struggling to control the amount of sugar left in
the blood from your previous meal. There is strong evidence that reducing
the insulin resistance that's making your pancreas overwork can halt or
reverse progression to diabetes. You're not alone in this. There are about
57 million people in this country with pre-diabetes. Get started today by
beginning a sensible exercise program, eating a nutritious well balanced
diet and losing some weight.
there any warning signs that might tell me I’m close to having diabetes?
in fact early indications of this are apparent in a condition called Metabolic
Syndrome. People that have three or more of the following
symptoms have this metabolic disorder and are at risk for diabetes.
- Waist size of 40 inches for men and 35 inches
for women (or waist size that equals or is larger than your hips)
- 12 hour fasting blood sugar in the pre-diabetes
- Triglycerides in the blood greater than 150
- HDL cholesterol less than 40 for men and 50
- Blood pressure greater than 130/85 or taking
blood pressure medications
This is why diabetes is classified as a
metabolic disorder. Your body isn't metabolizing or "burning"
your food properly.
really don't want to take pills until I have to. Can I control my diabetes
often you can, especially in the early stages of diabetes when blood sugars
are only mildly elevated. It's even possible to get off Medications after
you've started by working hard on the other aspects of blood sugar control.
Understand that you're not ignoring your diabetes, but rather you're
keeping Medication in reserve, as a safety net, and controlling sugars by
employing your other tools: Monitor, Meals, Motion, and Motivation.
Ultimately, with or without medications, success is measured by maintaining
healthy blood sugar levels.
of your 5M's is the most important?
think nothing is more important for effective blood sugar control than
eating a nutritious well balanced diet. I'm not suggesting that you
"go on a diet." The healthy diet I’m talking about could best be
described as the total of all nourishment you supply to your body. It
includes materials for activity, growth, repair, and enough energy to
complete that work. Of course it’s also undeniable that we eat for reasons
other than nourishment and fuel, and these important issues will be
discussed below. But from the perspective of basic biology, what
you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat are
the factors that must be confronted if you are going to get control of your
problem is that everything I eat seems to turn to fat
might be right! Researchers have discovered that the kind of bacteria in
your intestines (your gut), has a strong influence on whether you burn off
your calories or store them as fat. Two main types of bacteria live in your
gut, Bacteriodetes (good guys), and Firmicutes (bad guys). These gut bugs
aid in digestion and the breakdown of waste products, but they may also
affect metabolism, fat storage, and inflammation. Evidence is mounting that
the balance of these gut microbes determines whether a person will be lean
The exciting part of this news is that
the balance of these organisms is largely determined by factors in your
environment; the misuse of antibiotics which kill the good bacteria, and
your diet. “what you eat is proving
to be one of the major determinants of…the community of bacteria living in
your intestine,” says microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg
of the Stanford University School of Medicine.
We have some control over these factors!
If this new research proves to be true, then the use of prebiotics,
foods that encourage the growth of good bacteria, and a good probiotic supplement, which contains live
"good guy" bacteria, might help influence this balance of power
and help swing us back to a healthy state. Active culture yogurts, now
being heavily advertised, are also a source of these good bacteria, however they may not have enough to really
make much difference.
So in the end, we really "are what
we eat". Feed the good guys, eat healthy! To learn more about this new
research click on these links: Bacteria and Obesity,
and this one: gut flora (scroll down to read
the section on obesity), and finally this new article from July 2010
Newsweek magazine: How bacteria could
make you fat.
heard that eating a low carb diet can help control diabetes.
qualify that and say that eating a lower carbohydrate diet
can help control blood sugars. Carbohydrates, classified as either simple
(sugars) or complex (starches), are the simplest food type and so require
the least amount of processing in the digestive tract. They are usually
released into the blood quickly (15 minutes) where they stimulate the
release of insulin from the pancreas, which allows them to be absorbed into
the cells for energy. A healthy pancreas has little problem doing this, but
for someone with diabetes, or at risk for diabetes, this puts tremendous
stress on an already weakened pancreas.
then, why not avoid carbohydrates altogether.
are fuel foods, and we all need energy. Carbohydrates should be eaten in
quantities that match your circumstances (i.e. - activity level and
metabolism). Lance Armstrong, the famous bicycle racer, got 70% of his
calories from carbohydrates. But clearly he had enormous energy demands he
had to meet. Most adults, with slower metabolic rates, and a less active
lifestyle usually shoot for about 50% of their intake of food in the form
of carbohydrates. I think someone with diabetes could eat less, maybe as
low as 40% carbohydrate, but it's not really that simple. Besides
controlling the amount of carbohydrate in your diet, you need to pay
attention to the quality of your "carbs" as well. High quality
carbohydrates are natural and unprocessed, and contain plenty of vitamins,
minerals and most importantly fiber.
If you are interested in trying this,
check out the South Beach Diet. It's a lower
carbohydrate diet that encourages eating lean protein, healthy fats, and
high fiber natural "good carbs". I think on balance it offers a
sensible lower carbohydrate plan.
A similar reduced carbohydrate plan comes
from the Mayo Clinic. It's based on their "Healthy Weight
Pyramid" that emphasizes not only a healthy diet, but also exercise,
weight loss and health promotion. The diet itself recommends filling up on
vegetables, whole fruit, high fiber carbohydrates and healthy fats. This
diet is not specifically designed for diabetics however, so I think you
should be prudent and limit your intake of fruit. A word of caution here;
there has been "fake" mayo clinic diets around for some time.
These diets are not associated with the actual Mayo Clinic and are what I
would call "fad" diets not based on healthy eating principles.
You can read more about the Mayo Clinic approach at their official website:
Mayo Clinic Diet.
so important about fiber?
plays many roles in a healthy diet. First, fiber slows digestion, and this
slows the amount of sugar that’s released into the blood at any one time.
Remember the old saying; “The whiter your bread, the sooner you’re dead?”
Well that’s just a way of saying we need more fiber in our diet. Americans
average only about 17 grams of fiber a day, but we need twice that much.
Grains have three parts: the germ, full of healthy oil and protein;
the bran, or fiber, which slows digestion and helps you feel full, and
starch a complex carbohydrate made of sugars that are linked
together in long chains. White bread is made with only the starchy part.
Whole grains provide the natural balance that nature intended. When you eat
starchy foods like white potatoes, or refined starches with the fiber taken
out, it raises blood sugars nearly as fast as pure sugar, putting a real
strain on your pancreas. Sugars, from the broken down starches, flood into
the blood like freeway traffic at rush hour.
One way to combat this blood sugar
"traffic jam" is to increase the fiber in your diet by eating
fresh vegetables; beans, legumes, peas and lentils; whole grains and
cereals; and maybe a piece of fruit each day. To help increase your daily
fiber intake try a whole grain, high fiber pasta
like those from Dreamfields. Eat brown rice
instead of white sticky rice. Switch from white potatoes to a red skin
potato, new potatoes, or try a yam or sweet potato. If you like cereal for
breakfast be sure to stay away from sugary brands.
Try a healthy high fiber cereal like those from Kashi.
These carbohydrates take longer to digest and enter the blood, reducing
that after meal blood sugar spike.
Another trick is to eat your starches al
dente, or slightly chewy. Undercooking starches helps keep the starch
from turning gooey and breaking down right in the pan. Aim for 30-35 grams
of fiber per day, but add it slowly, maybe 5 grams at a time, and note your
body's response. Fiber helps to keep you regular and avoid constipation,
but too much fiber too quickly may cause gas, bloating or diarrhea. Natural
sources of fiber are of course best, but if you want to add additional
fiber in supplement form, I recommend Benefiber brand. It’s made from
soluble fiber so it doesn’t taste gritty and soluble fiber also helps lower
I reduce my "carbs" don't I have to increase my fat and protein
it all has to add up to 100%, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Increasing
your lean protein and healthy fat intake can provide real
benefits if done correctly. The sugar traffic jam I described above touches
on an important concept, so let's get into detail by reviewing some basic
principles of nutrition first. All edible foods fall into three categories;
proteins, fats and carbohydrates. That means that
everything we eat is made up of one of these types or is a combination of
the three. Each is different in its complexity requiring different amounts
of time to disassemble it (digest it), and each has its own special purpose
in the body, so finding a proper balance is very important.
This idea is better known as Glycemic
Index and I think it offers a good strategy to follow if you’re
struggling with your meal planning. The idea is based on a simple
observation: Foods don’t digest and supply usable energy at the same rates.
Some foods digest slowly and some digest quickly. The concept might be more
obvious to you if you think about starting a fire in your fireplace.
You know to be careful of lighter fluid because it burns so quickly.
Kindling burns slower and helps to stoke the fire and get it going, and a
log burns most slowly and provides slow continuous energy. In the same way
we need to find a healthy balance in the types of foods we eat. Choose to
eat the right balance of foods so your body is supplied with the type and
the amount of energy we need; Lean protein and healthy fat will provide you
with steady energy so you feel full and satisfied, complex carbs will stoke
your internal fire and give you energy when you need it. And fast burning
sugars? Well, unless you're training for the Tour de France, those are
troublesome and you’re going to have to go easy.
Let's discuss protein in more
detail. Protein is what we’re made of; muscle, skin, hair, blood, our
internal organs; all protein. So when we eat protein we do so primarily to
bring in building supplies for growth and repair. Protein supplies us with
four calories of energy per gram, the same as carbohydrates, but protein is
very complex and therefore burns slowly providing that satisfying full
feeling longer. This is the food that "sticks to the ribs" and
helps stabilize blood sugars. Every meal should include some high quality lean
protein. Protein will slow the absorption of the carbohydrates in that
meal (like making sure you have food in your stomach if you drink alcohol -
food slows the absorption of alcohol). Good sources of protein are beans,
peas, lentils; low fat dairy, and yogurt; lean meats like chicken, turkey
and fish; and nuts and seeds. Even lean cuts of beef and pork can be
included in modest amounts. Eggs are also a great source of protein.
Although the yolk is high in cholesterol, I think their bad reputation is
undeserved. One egg per day shouldn’t cause problems for your cholesterol
levels. I believe a healthy diabetic diet should include about 20-25%
protein. A word of caution here however, if you’re suffering from kidney
disease your protein intake will need to be lowered to accommodate decreased
function. Ask your doctor to be sure exactly how much you should include in
fats? I thought fat was bad for you.
aren't bad for you; bad fats are bad for you! Healthy fats are,
well, healthy. Fat is the richest form of food in our diet, supplying nine
calories of energy per gram. Bite for bite that’s more than twice the
calories of any other food. It’s complex and slow burning so it mostly
provides us with a slow steady background fuel for our body’s daily
metabolic needs. It’s also our savings account for times when food is
scarce, so we come by our craving of fatty foods naturally. The ability of
our ancestors to store fat during times of plenty is certainly one of the
most important biological adaptations ever made, but our intake needs to
reflect the changes our culture has made and today’s new realities. The television
psychologist Dr. Phil says it this way: “We don’t eat any more calories
than our grandparents; the problem is we don’t do what our grandparents
did.” In other words listening to this ancestral urge to store extra fat
for lean times needs to be balanced with the reality that those lean times
don’t happen much any more, so nowadays we’re storing too much fat and it’s
killing us. The average American brings in about 40% of their calories from
fat, and most of that is from unhealthy sources. I think 30-35% is a better
number and remember these should come from healthy sources. Natural fats
from plants in the form of oils should be the main source of fat in our
diet. Olive oil, canola oil, the oils from nuts and seeds, omega-3 oils,
and yes, even avocados are cholesterol free and full of healthy fat.
They’re easy to digest and use for fuel rather than storing around the
waistline. Peanut butter is a great snack, but be sure to get the natural
kind (with oil on the top). Make room in your diet for these healthy fats
by getting bad fats out!
so which ones are the unhealthy fats I should avoid?
fats come from two sources, one natural, the other man-made. They are -
animal fats and trans-fat. These types of fat are easily recognizable
because they’re solid at room temperature- white and greasy. They’re like
this because of their chemical structure. The carbon chain that makes up
the backbone of these fat molecules is surrounded, or saturated,
with hydrogen. This hydrogenated fat is structurally stable and therefore
difficult to break down. Good for frying, bad for digesting. Remember too
that cholesterol only comes from animals, so animal fat is loaded
with it. Trans-fats are artificially saturated with hydrogen. These
hydrogenated (or partially-hydrogenated) fats are made by forcing hydrogen
onto a plant fat where nature didn’t have one before. Crisco first made
“shortening” in 1911. This new form of man-made fat, hardened plant fat, was more resistant to breakdown and didn’t turn
rancid as fast. This allowed the commercial food industry to box foods and
put them on the shelves without fear of spoilage. The problem? We now
understand that the bond that’s created in this process, the trans-bond, is
difficult to digest (in Latin the word ‘trans’ means across). The carbon
chain twists, leaving the added hydrogen across from each other - a trans-fat).
Trans-fats, being resistant to breakdown, tend to stick around and cause
health problems. If you don't burn it, you wear it.
While trans-fats have no cholesterol
themselves they do cause your bad cholesterol to go up, your good
cholesterol to go down, and also increase insulin resistance and blood
vessel inflammation that leads to an acceleration of the diabetic
complications we discussed earlier. In January of 2006 the U.S.
government began requiring that food labels show the amount of trans-fat in
all packaged goods. Fast food restaurants however aren’t getting the
message and are probably the greatest source of these artery-clogging fats.
Bad idea. Avoid them! If you’re unconvinced about this or need reminding,
play this clip from the documentary Fast
Food Nation, or this clip from the movie Super
Size Me. It’s a real eye opener. It’s about a young man who ate
three meals a day from McDonalds for a full month. Not a happy ending. Trans-fats
really need to be avoided in all foods. Read food labels and choose
about butter and margarine? Which is better for you?
is an animal fat and has loads of cholesterol so use it sparingly.
You need some cholesterol, but your liver makes all that your body
needs. Cholesterol isn’t bad, it’s actually necessary to help strengthen
cell walls and also to make bile and certain hormones your body needs. Too
much cholesterol however will build up and clog arteries increasing
your risk of heart attack and stroke. Remember when you have diabetes you
have extra sugars in the blood which damage the smooth inner lining of your
arteries. In the same way that rough, damaged spots on a Teflon cooking pan
cause food to stick, rough spots in your blood vessels give cholesterol a
chance to stick and begin to clog. One million heart attacks and half a
million strokes occur in this country every year because of clogged blood
vessels. Watch your cholesterol levels! Margarines on the other hand are
made from liquid vegetable oils, which have no cholesterol. The problem
here is that the oils must first be hardened into a spreadable form. It’s
this process of artificial hardening called hydrogenation that turns them
into unhealthy trans-fats, the worst kind of fat (remember Oleo?).
Manufacturers of margarines however are trying to make healthy changes. New
spreads that don’t use trans-fats are appearing on the market and these are
considered healthy to eat. Look on the label before you buy and choose
brands that use healthy fats. Benecol or Smart Balance are two that I would
usually skip breakfast to help keep my sugars down. Is this a good idea?
it's actually a very bad idea to skip breakfast. It seems to defy logic,
but studies have shown that people who skip breakfast actually weigh more
than people who eat breakfast. People who skip breakfast because they’re
not “hungry” or because they think they can save a few hundred calories and
help their weight loss plan; actually do more harm than good. Skipping
breakfast means you will likely go 16 hours without food. This sets off a
reaction in your body similar to a starvation reaction. Your metabolism
slows and your body begins to crave food. During times of starvation your
body actually starts to burn lean muscle tissue and tries hold on to its
supply of fat. When you do finally eat your body is so “starved” that you
tend to eat too much and often eat the wrong foods. Large meals alternating
with periods of starvation set up a "roller coaster effect"
with blood sugars ranging high then low then high again. Stay off the
roller coaster! Eating smaller meals, more often will help to stabilize
blood sugar swings and provide just enough fuel that you don’t feel hungry
or deprived. In fact getting into the habit of eating a little something
every 3 or 4 hours during the day makes a lot of sense. Hunger is a
survival mechanism. By the time you feel “hungry” your body is already
making unhealthy metabolic changes that are working against you.
know it would help if I bought better foods. Any help with grocery
especially careful when you’re going grocery shopping or heading out to a
restaurant to eat. Grocery shopping when you’re hungry often leads to poor
choices and the purchase of foods you know will sabotage your diet plan. Make
a list before you go and be careful of adding “impulse items” while
you’re shopping. Heeding the old saying "shop around the outside of
the market" is pretty good advice. Nowadays restaurant meals are
much too large to be eaten all at one sitting. Don’t eat large meals!
Besides affecting your blood sugars, heartburn and related conditions are
made worse when you eat too much because abdominal fat doesn’t make room
for your stomach to expand very much. The pressure created on the stomach
causes food to be forced back up into your throat where sensitive tissue is
burned by stomach acid. You can protect against “portion distortion”
by asking for a carry-out box when your meal is brought to the table.
Divide the portion before you start eating and you won’t struggle with the
issue of when to stop eating. Of course if you are with someone, simply
sharing one meal is a great solution to portion distortion.
heard about portion distortion. So how do I know how much to eat?
tricky. When patients ask me “how many calories do I need to eat each day?”
I respond by saying “it depends.” Not a satisfactory answer I know, but
they would get the same answer if they asked me “how much gas do I need in
my car each day?” You know that depends on how much fuel your car burns and
how far you drive each day. How much you eat should be based primarily on
need. Your body needs fuel based on two things, your basal metabolism, and
your activity level. Basal metabolism is how much you burn at rest. In
general you can figure it this way: Your body is burning about 1 calorie of
energy every minute just to carry on basic life processes. Since there’s
1,440 minutes in each day, you would need to provide that much fuel in
balanced amounts to maintain your present weight. Any more fuel than that
will be stored as fat for future needs and you gain weight, less fuel than
that and you will have to withdraw some energy from your fat cells to make
up the difference and you’ll lose weight.
Of course you don’t sit or sleep every
minute of the day, so each minute that you’re more active you’re burning
more than one calorie per minute. Walking burns about 5 calories per minute
and more vigorous activities burn even more, perhaps 10 calories per
minute. Remember Lance Armstrong? He ate 7,000 calories a day to meet his
needs during his bike racing days. Now that he’s retired he has to cut back
and eat only what his less active body needs. You need to find the range
that meets your caloric needs. I’m guessing that for most of you it will be
between 1,500 and 1,800 calories per day. This amount is enough to supply
good balanced nourishment, and also enough food that you don’t feel
deprived. Never eat less than 1,200 calories each day unless you are under
direct care from a medical doctor or registered dietician. Don’t try to
starve yourself! Diets that are too strict are destined to fail because
they are so restrictive it’s virtually impossible to stay on them very
Here's a trick you can use to see if your
meals are balanced as to carb-protein-fat content and are the proper
portion size. Check your blood sugar before you eat and then again 2 hours
after your meal. Your blood sugar at that time should be less than 180.
Check like this often to satisfy any doubts you have and learn which meals
are well balanced, and which recipes need to be re-worked by perhaps
lowering the carbohydrate amount, or simply reducing the portion size.
about sugar substitutes? Can I use them without raising my blood sugar?
sweeteners aren't digestible, so they don't raise blood sugars; however
some people believe that using sweeteners triggers the urge for more
sweets. I think that sugar substitutes like Sweet-n-low, Equal
(NutraSweet), or Splenda, as a way of cutting back on sugar, can
play a useful role in your diet if used in moderation. Some concerns
have been raised about their long-term safety. Aspartame, the sweetener found
in Equal (NutraSweet), is said to be unstable when it gets hot, causing it
to break down into harmful byproducts. I personally don’t think the
evidence they cause harm is strong enough that they need to be totally
avoided, but if you believe you’re having side-effects like headaches or
body aches, stop using them altogether. Of the three products available on
the market, I think sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda, is the
best choice. The main advantage is that it’s chemically stable and won’t
break down even when you cook with it. This can really help those of you
who are trying to prepare satisfying meals for a family. I also think it
has a more natural taste, so no one is likely to notice the substitution.
The fact that Splenda is so chemically stable is also an advantage because
since it isn’t broken down into other chemicals, isn’t absorbed into the
body tissues and is quickly eliminated from the body unchanged; I see no
potential for harm. Daily coffee or a diet soda once in a while is not
likely to cause any problems, but half a dozen diet sodas a day is way too
much and not a good idea.
Another group of sweeteners, sugar
alcohols like sorbitol or maltitol, are digestible and will raise blood
sugars some, though usually not as much as sugar itself. The thing to be
careful of is how much you’re getting. Sugar alcohols have a laxative
effect and some people are very sensitive to them. If you have diarrhea
after eating sugarless ice cream, or dietetic chocolates, this is likely
the cause. Go easy on these until you know how you’re body is going to
A new product on the market that might be
useful is Stevia. Stevia comes from the leaves of a South American plant.
It can be purchased by that name or as "Truvia". I've gotten
mixed reviews from my patients, but give it a try and see if you like the
about cinnamon? I heard it lowers blood sugar.
has shown that as little as 1 gram (1/2 teaspoon) of cinnamon may in fact
help lower blood sugars. The type of cinnamon used in most of these studies
is cassia cinnamon, sometimes call Chinese cinnamon (This type is different
or true cinnamon). Cassia cinnamon is the most common type found in this
country, but check the label to be sure. The active ingredient in cinnamon
is Proanthrocyanidin, the water soluble part of cinnamon. It is thought to
function by activating the insulin receptor on the surface of the cell
allowing the cell to absorb sugar from the blood. Cinnamon oil did not show
this blood sugar lowering effect. I think, given these research findings,
that cinnamon supplements may be helpful if nothing more than offering a
tasty addition to food besides sugar. Talk to your doctor about this and
then proceed carefully so that you don't put yourself at risk of a
hypoglycemic event. Just in case it actually works.
do you think about supplements in general?
think supplements can be useful safeguards. Be clear with yourself however;
supplements are not substitutes. There are no shortcuts that
can take the place of a healthy lifestyle. I see it as 95% healthy choices
and maybe 5% help from supplements, not the other way around. Over my years
as a diabetes educator I've heard about many "miracle cures" for
diabetes. I'm open, but also a bit skeptical. If you want to try fish oil,
or a good multiple vitamin or ginkgo biloba, chromium, or selenium, talk to
your doctor first (some supplements can have significant effects on things
like blood thinning). Then find a reputable company. This industry (food
supplements) has very little oversight and I have heard horror stories
about purity issues, and "fake ingredients". Here is a website link
that may help direct your search: Nutrition Data. Another
site, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is: Food and
Nutrition Information Center.
I drink alcohol?
it's not absolutely forbidden for a healthy diabetic to drink, alcohol use
may complicate your treatment plan for a number of reasons. Drinking
alcohol will, in the short term, raise blood sugars because of the
carbohydrates in the drink, but in the hours following you may put yourself
a risk for a hypoglycemic episode (low sugar) because of the effect alcohol
has on the liver. Never drink on an empty stomach. Remember that many of
your medicines advise against using alcohol because it can increase the
risk of side effects or magnify them. This is an important discussion that
you need to have with your doctor. Together you can come to an
understanding of what your risks are and whether a glass of beer or wine
with a meal is okay for you.
I find myself eating when I'm not really hungry. What can I do about
final thought on eating has to do with the constant battle of wants versus
needs. Many of my patients struggle with overeating not so much because of hunger,
but because of a lack of satiety. Satiety is the feeling of being satisfied
with a meal and is just as powerful an urge as hunger itself. Here are some
ideas on that. First, take smaller bites and eat more slowly. The feeling
of fullness after a meal is not just in the stomach, it’s also in the
brain. The body produces chemicals, which control the urge to eat. One of
these hormones, leptin, is responsible for letting the brain know when
you’re full and should stop eating. The problem is that it takes about 30
minutes for this chemical to be released and go to work. If you eat too
fast you can “over-consume” and eat far more than your body really needs or
wants. If you’re eating small meals more often, as I suggest, this will be
much easier to do because you won’t feel so starved that you lose control.
Emotional eating, and by this I mean compulsive eating, is sometimes a sign
of clinical depression. Talk with your doctor or counselor about your
feelings about food and eating.
Take joy in eating. It's a good thing
when it’s done in a healthy way. Don't make food the enemy or you'll be
doomed to fight your whole life. Guilt is just "stinkin thinkin”.
In his book Healthy Pleasures Dr.
David Sobel suggests that if we learn to enjoy all of the pleasurable
aspects of eating we benefit by feeling greater overall satisfaction. Learn
to eat more slowly and savor your food. Use this time to talk to your
companions. Eat a wide variety of foods and take time to appreciate all the
different flavors and smells and textures. Even the process of cooking
itself is an important part of the joy of eating. Enjoy the whole
experience. All of these things will leave you feeling more satisfied after
meals and help you guard against mindless over-consumption.
doctor wants me to exercise, and I would if I only had more energy.
of energy is one of the most common complaints I get from my diabetic
patients, but the reason for this tired feeling might surprise you.
Remember earlier I discussed how extra sugar is trapped in the blood? You
may be feeling tired and hungry because the sugar in your blood simply
hasn’t been delivered. It has to be absorbed into the cell for you to have
energy. Your cells aren’t getting energy because the doors are jammed shut
and insulin is having a tough time getting them to open and accept the
sugar from your blood (insulin resistance). Using your muscles can help
that. You see, because they protect us from danger, muscles have a special
ability to draw those unburned sugars into the cell. Imagine there was a
fire and you needed to escape, you would have plenty of energy right? Well
you can use this to your advantage and the great thing is there doesn’t
have to be a real fire to do it. The next time you feel tired and hungry
check your blood sugar level. If it’s 80 or lower, it’s time to eat. But if
it’s 180, you have plenty of fuel in the blood. Don’t eat and add more fuel
on top of it, burn what’s there by going for a walk or by doing some other
form of gentle exercise. When the muscles begin to draw these sugars from
the blood you will actually feel better. Talk to your doctor and get the
okay; then start slowly with a type of activity that you enjoy and suits
tried exercising and found that my blood sugar was actually higher when I
is true for many people, but don't worry about this type of sugar rise
unless it persists long after your exercise is over. Just as breathing
increases with exercise, sugars are released from the liver when active
muscles call for it. Sugar levels, just like your breathing, will return to
normal or lower in a short time. In fact since exercise stimulates your
metabolism, your body will continue to burn excess calories long after
you’re activity has finished. Right now as you sit and read this your body
is burning fuel, and just like a car, how much you burn depends on how fast
you’re going. Well, your body is idling right now so you’re only burning a
minimum amount of fuel, about one calorie per minute. When you’re out
walking, doing yard work or house work, your body is burning about 5
calories of energy every minute. If you walk for 1 hour each day you’ll
burn up over 2,000 excess calories of energy each week that would have been
stored as fat. In a year’s time that’s over 30 pounds of fat. You can see
how this really adds up. Some very fit people can exercise at sustained
levels that burn well over 10 calories per minute. Remember Lance
Armstrong? His main concern regarding food was “am I getting enough”.
Wouldn’t that be a welcome problem to have for a change?
blood sugar has been rising for the past few months and now my doctor says
it's time to start taking medication to help. What do these pills do?
may recall from the reading above how your pancreas was damaged by overwork
in the years leading up to your diagnosis of diabetes. For many years it
controlled your blood sugars by producing extra insulin, compensating for
the fact that your cells weren’t responding to this chemical key. At some
point, if a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss are no longer sufficient
to keep blood sugars stable, you will need the additional help that
diabetic medications offer. There are three main types of oral (pills)
medications, each designed to work in a different way. One type stimulates
your pancreas to produce a little extra insulin for mealtimes, another
works by preventing your liver from inappropriately dumping unneeded sugar
into the blood, while others sensitize the cells to respond better to the
insulin you are producing.
you describe how each of these pills works to lower my sugar?
are three classes of oral medications commonly used to treat high blood
sugars (hyperglycemia). The first class of drugs is called secretagogues
because they stimulate the pancreas to produce (secrete) extra insulin.
These are best taken about 30 minutes before a meal to give the pancreas
time to react and produce the extra insulin needed for the upcoming meal.
Tolinase (tolazamide), Glucotrol (glipizide), Micronase (glyburide),
Orinase (tolbutamide), Prandin (repaglinide), and Starlix (nateglinide) are
examples of these. (Note – Drugs have two names and this may sometimes seem
confusing. The capitalized word is the name the company gave it, their
registered trademark. The other is the actual generic drug name). Of the
medications mentioned in this class, Prandin and Starlix are shorter acting
for those who tend to have after-meal blood sugar spikes that drop back
into the normal range quickly. This shorter acting formulation lessens the
risk of blood sugars being lowered too much in the hours after your meal.
The second drug commonly used is
Glucophage (metformin). This medication slows the release of sugars that
are stored in the liver. One of the many jobs of the liver is to store
extra sugars and release them during emergencies (fight or flight reaction)
and when blood sugars drop during the night. Many of you may experience
this “Dawn Effect” and find that your morning sugar readings are higher
then when you went to bed. Glucophage will help lessen this effect. Take
this medication with food and start slowly to avoid the possibility of
stomach distress. Most patients start with a single 500 mg (milligram)
tablet once a day (dinner). If your doctor prescribes more than a single
pill daily, wait until your body gets used to the lower dose before adding
more. Usually add the second pill after one week (breakfast). If there is a
third pill to take, wait until the third week then add it to your
lunchtime/diner meal as your doctor directs. Glucophage also helps lower
insulin resistance and sensitize the cells so they use insulin more
efficiently by opening the “doors” that have been stuck shut. This
sensitizing effect makes this drug an effective option for people with
“metabolic syndrome” because of added abdominal body fat. It can also be
used in combination with any of the medications from the first group of
drugs mentioned above (e.g. glipizide) to help lower blood sugars even more
effectively than using one class alone.
The third most commonly prescribed class
of medications includes Actos (pioglitazone) and Avandia (rosiglitazone).
These medications work as insulin sensitizers to reduce insulin resistance
and make your insulin work better. These drugs tend to cause water
retention, so they must be used with care in patients with congestive heart
failure. Also make sure to have periodic liver function tests to monitor
any negative reaction to your diabetic medications. For patients struggling
to maintain stable blood sugars, this class can also be added to the others
to make a triple combination therapy, though most often a patient will
begin adding insulin injections at this point.
Note-Avandia (rosiglitazone) has
been linked to heart attacks and heart failure and now requires a special
"black box" warning label. Talk to your doctor about this before
starting this medication. Check out this website to learn more about this
drug and efforts to recall it and remove it from the market: Avandia Side Effects.
Newer drugs to hit the market attempt to
control blood sugars by manipulating gastrointestinal hormones called incretins.
Insulin is quickly released into the blood, even before blood sugar begins
to rise, due to the action of two gut hormones called glucagon-like
peptide-1 (GLP-1), and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP). Both
of these hormones play a key role in blood sugar control by stimulating the
release of insulin, inhibiting the release of the counter-regulatory
hormone glucagon, and by slowing how fast food is released from the
stomach. Two incretin analogs (drugs that mimic GLP-1 hormone), are now
being used as a therapy in type-2 diabetes. Byetta (exenatide) and Victoza
(liraglutide) are examples. One drawback with these two drugs is that they
must be injected. Difficulties were encountered when trying to fully
utilize these incretins however because in the body they are quickly
inactivated by the enzyme dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4). This has led
researchers to create drugs like Januvia (sitagliptin), or Onglyza
(saxaglyptin), which inhibit the action of DPP-4. These are taken in pill
One word of caution. DPP-4 enzyme is known to be involved in tumor
suppression, which leads some researchers to fear that inhibiting this
enzyme may spur the growth of certain cancers. Speak to your doctor about
this if you're taking DPP-4 inhibitors or considering it.
One other drug worth mentioning is Symlin
(pramlintide). This drug is an analog (chemically similar) to the natural
hormone amylin which is made in the pancreas by the same beta-cells that
make insulin. It is thought to partner synergistically with insulin to
lower blood sugar. It is indicated only for those who use mealtime insulin,
and is administered by a separate injection. Severe hypoglycemia is a major
concern and a 30% reduction in the units of insulin is usually required.
Because it has been shown to decrease appetite, it may also activate the
satiety centers in the brain.
I encourage you to learn as much as you
can about the drugs your take. Don't forget, what you do to control
your blood sugars outside the clinic is just as important as anything that
happens there. Work on your M's (Meals, Motion, Monitoring, and
Motivation) first to lessen the need for medications. A good website to
gather information about the medications you may be taking can be found at:
It features up-to-date information on the drug side-effects of prescription
and over-the-counter medications and publishes alerts to aid in the
protection of patients and consumers.
doctor wants me to start insulin, but I'm afraid. My grandmother started
insulin and ended up having kidney damage. Doesn't insulin cause
it doesn't cause complications, in fact it will prevent them. All animals
need insulin to survive (my neighbor's cat needs two shots of insulin each
day). Your grandmother's kidney complication was the result of damage that
occurred before she started insulin. When natural insulin production gets
very low, and oral medications are no longer effective in controlling sugar
levels, supplemental injections of insulin are necessary. This need for
insulin shouldn't be seen as a failure on your part (any more than wearing
glasses to compensate for weakening eyesight), and it doesn't mean that
your diabetes is now "the bad type". In fact I believe that in
many cases we wait too long to begin using insulin. Research indicates that
intensive insulin therapy at the time of diagnosis may help to preserve the
function of your pancreas and make it easier to control your diabetes later
on. Have a frank discussion with your doctor about this and don't be afraid
to try insulin therapy. You will be surprised to find that the injection
itself hurts less than your daily finger stick. Good news on that front is
that a new "oral" insulin is being tested. It isn't a pill, it's
a spray that's absorbed in the mouth. Stay tuned, we should know about its
effectiveness in the next few years. The important thing, whether you take
oral medications or insulin, is that blood sugars be controlled in as
normal a range as possible.
I gain a lot of weight when I start insulin?
necessarily. Often the use of diabetic medications means some added weight,
but this effect can be reduced by making healthy changes to your portion
size. Remember that some of the sugar in the blood that was not absorbed by
the cell is then lost in the urine. The ancient Greeks wrote that honey
bees were attracted to the urine of people with diabetes (diabetes mellitus
translates "sweet urine"). It's a normal urge to begin eating
more when you don't absorb all that you eat. Once you start taking diabetic
medications you should re-evaluate your portion sizes at mealtime since now
you will be absorbing your calories so much more efficiently.
know that stress isn't good for your health, but will it affect my blood
it will. Unrelieved stress is one of the things that will not only have an
effect on your emotions and overall health; it will have a direct effect on
your blood sugars.
The body views stress as an attack or
challenge, and responds by preparing our bodies to fight or flee. Adrenalin
and the stress hormone cortisol are pumped into the blood from
glands just above the kidneys; your heart begins to beat faster and blood
pressure goes up; and blood sugars rise, all to help you escape the
danger at hand. In a more natural situation, real danger would pass and our
bodies would return to a normal state. But in today’s world many
"dangers" do not pass, so instead of the action found in fight
or flight, our response is to freeze, leaving ourselves in a
state of constant anxiety. These modern day "dangers" in fact,
don’t even have to be a real or immediate threat. If we perceive it as
threatening in any sense of the word; fear, anger, even frustration or
uncertainty; in any case, we’re left with the continuing feeling of
anxiety, and fear. This lack of resolution of distress leaves us literally
“stewing in our own juices”. This type of unrelieved stress is one
of the most insidious factors negatively affecting our health and
well-being. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, may
be responsible for the increase in belly fat seen in many type-2
diabetics. Studies show that when a person is overly stressed, the body
reacts by storing away extra fat in anticipation of the coming danger.
Before we leave this point I want to be
sure you understand what I mean by unrelieved stress. In his book
"Stress without distress" Hans Selye describes stress as not a
single thing, but rather a continuum that starts low and continues to high.
Some stress is necessary in our lives. In fact stressors are what give our
lives richness and meaning. If we had no stress in our lives, we would have
no reason to get out of bed in the morning; no reason to live. A research
study was done in Florida
to determine how stress affected the health of retirees in an “old folk's
home”. The term was used purposely because it implies the conditions they
found; an old, run down facility where people simply sat out their last
years with very limited stimulation. When the researchers changed the
environment by opening windows to let in more light, playing music, taking
the patients out into the garden, bringing in a box of puppies and letting
them play, things began to change. Patients’ depression lessened and moods
became brighter, they had more energy and began to get themselves up and
take better care of their hygiene, they slept better and laughed more and
most importantly they lived longer. All of us need some stimulation in
life, some reason to live. This level of stress is termed eustress,
which means normal or good stress. It gives our lives meaning. When we fill
our lives with activities and things that are meaningful, we increase our
stress, but in a healthy way.
Each of us has the ability to deal with
stress in life, but everyone has limits. When we exceed our limits
we move into another zone of stress termed distress. This term is
more common to us and we all know that distress is a bad thing. Most of us,
however, don’t appreciate just how damaging it is on our health. To further
complicate things, none of us enters this zone of distress at the same
time. Some people are able to perform quite challenging, even frightening
activities with no apparent distress. Take a racecar driver for example, or
a mountain climber, or bungee jumper. Most of us would not be having fun if
we were hanging from a cliff by a single thin rope. Why do some people have
the ability to stretch their limits? Well, we simply don’t know, and for
our purposes, it’s really not important. What's important is that we
acknowledge that all of us have limits, and honor them.
What each of us must do to avoid distress
is know when we enter the distress zone. There will likely be signs if we
pay attention. When we have too much on our plates, and become overwhelmed,
sleep patterns might be affected. One person might sleep too much, another,
not at all. You might lose your appetite or eat compulsively. Bowel
movements may change from constipation to diarrhea and back again. Some
people might have headaches or difficulty concentrating. Accidents are
common from not paying attention to the moment, or from moving too fast
before we look. Depression, anger, and resentment are often present when a
person exceeds their emotional or physical limitations and falls into a
state of distress.
Our bodies are built for action, so fight
or flee as appropriate, just don't freeze. Take Action. Go for a
walk, read, listen to soothing music, meditate or pray, there is no one best
way. The best way is your way, the way that works for you. Find healthy
ways to relieve your distress, and do it often. The comedian Lily Thomlin
says it simply: "For fast acting relief, try slowing down".
Many years ago one of my patients
reminded me of our mortality by suggesting that regardless of the state of
one's health we are all just a heartbeat away from eternity. She then said
"I'm grateful for today, and hopeful for tomorrow. In the meantime I
enjoy the time I'm given".
When I’m feeling low and overwhelmed I
like to re-read the wise and comforting words found in Max Ehrmann’s famous
In part it reminds us: "But do not
distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and
loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself."
This humorous adaptation was offered to
me by one of my friends at Diabetic Connect. I
hope it makes you smile.
Desiderata for Diabetics
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
And remember that stress and cortisol may raise your levels.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with health care professionals of all types.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
except to the diet and diabetes police;
they just don’t get it.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to good glycemic control.
If you compare your HbA1c with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser numbers than your own.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own blood sugar diary, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in following fads and
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is in GI and GL diets;
many persons strive for perfect control,
and everywhere life is full of Joslin medalists.
Be yourself. Especially do not forget
Neither be cynical about the bond between fellow sufferers,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the old
remaining optimistic about the future for the young.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you should your retinopathy scan not
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of looking at the wrong sites on the internet.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
treat yourself from time to time.
You are a person with diabetes
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with your
however lacking in knowledge you perceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
make sure you have enough test strips.
With all its
sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
know that motivation is important, but that's the one I'm having trouble
with. I sometimes get really discouraged. Besides your diabetes DVD can you
recommend any books or websites that will help me stay on track?
condition, diabetes, is considered chronic, it's not yet curable. This
means that you'll probably live with diabetes the rest of your life
(remember, your sugar cruise control is broken). Proper management is the
secret to living well with diabetes, and to do that you need to have
knowledge about your condition, support from your doctors; your friends and
loved ones; and the motivation to carry on even when you are weary.
Remember that what you do to maintain
good health when you leave the clinic is just as important as anything the
doctor can do. In fact, you are the most important part of the
process of staying well. So find a natural balance and don't try to be
everything to everybody.
The serenity prayer offers wisdom on the
Give me the serenity to accept the
things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Here are some other helpful books and
websites that will help you stay motivated and on track.
· Diabetes Burnout by
William H. Polonsky, is a supportive guide to keeping you on track during
· For healthy eating tips I think the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight
Pyramid is a good guide to follow, but remember you will have to
limit your intake of fruit.
· Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food: An
Eaters Manifesto is a fantastic book and will make you reconsider
everything you thought you knew about food. His advice is simple: "Eat
food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Follow his motto: "If it came
from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't."
· The Eat This Not That book and website may be helpful when trying to make better food choices, especially as it relates to calories.
· The South Beach Diet is a
lower carbohydrate diet that encourages eating lean protein, healthy fats,
and high fiber natural "good carbs".
· Check out Toma Grubb's website and new book Toma's
Diabetic Diet - A Layman's Guide to Controlling Blood Glucose with Diet. He
includes a trial version of CyberSoft's Nutribase-7 Personal Plus
Nutrition and Fitness Software that helps you make healthy eating
choices and track the results.
· One of the early pioneers of diabetes information
online is David Mendosa. His website is an excellent
source of information on all things related to diabetes. Toma and David are
both living well with diabetes and are an inspiration to others wanting to
control their blood sugars and avoid health problems by adopting a healthy
· A good book and resource for understanding glycemic
index and healthy eating is The New Glucose Revolution.
by Jennie Brand-Miller.
· I also think you should get a calorie-counting
guide and begin to learn about the foods you eat. I recommend Allan
CalorieKing Calorie, Fat & Carb Counter. This book is full of
great ideas and explanations about how to make healthy food choices.
· For those of you who like to chat online, I will
recommend a wonderful website where you can network with other people with
diabetes, ask questions and get ideas and support at Diabetic Connect.
· Finally, if you would like
to get involved with community-based programs that increase awareness about
diabetes, the American Diabetes
Association website can help get you connected and active locally.
I hope my explanations in this section
have been helpful. Be your
own advocate, your own best friend, and most importantly, don’t beat
yourself up over small setbacks. Good diabetes control is not about being perfect. Believe in yourself and in your ability to
take control of your life and control your diabetes; then take the first
step toward living a healthy life. Remember, knowledge is most powerful when it leads to positive change.
If this Diabetes Basics: Questions and Answers was helpful or
if you have suggestions to improve it please email your comments to:
Doc@healthdoc.org. Good health. Live well.
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