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oh, sugar sugar… (diabetes fallacies and facts)

One of the tech blogs I read on a regular basis mocked a gizmo today. The gizmo (a cuckoo clock that dispenses chocolate balls once an hour) deserves to be mocked. But the writer included a comment to the effect that eating too much chocolate could make a person diabetic.

It doesn’t work that way.

Obesity is one of the major triggers for Type 2 diabetes, and that’s undoubtedly the main reason why more and more people are diabetic. We’re all fatter. But diabetes isn’t caused by eating too much sugar. It’s caused by eating too much, period. Put a layer of fat around your middle and you might just be seeing your doctor for more than you bargained for.

I know this because I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes ten years ago. I’d had my suspicions for a while before that, but every time my doctor tested my blood sugar levels, it was done while I was fasting and my readings were in the normal range. It wasn’t till I had an appointment after lunch (that included a can of Pepsi) that I got an accurate reading–and the bad news.

What it’s really like

Diabetes is a progressive, pernicious disease. In the beginning, if the diagnosis is made early enough before the person’s blood sugar gets so high it requires major medical intervention, it is often possible to keep one’s blood sugar readings under control by a combination of diet and exercise, without medication. That’s the way it was for me for a few years (despite the best efforts of my boss to remain ignorant on the subject and buy party food that was mostly grease and sugar). Eventually I had to start taking medication that pushed my body to produce more insulin.

Of course, insulin can be considered a growth hormone and many people who get started on that kind of medication gain weight. I did. But my blood sugar was under control, at least for a while. Eventually that medication didn’t do the job and a second one was prescribed. That combination held the line for me until late last year.

Testing, testing

There’s a test called A1c that measures how high your blood sugar levels have been over about the last three months. The average reading is about 6%, give or take a few percentage points. Diabetics can go a little higher and still be considered within proper limits. My A1c was 8.4%. This was bad news indeed. But it didn’t come as much of a surprise because I had had increasing difficulty with way-too-high readings.

So, two months ago, I started injecting insulin. I know a lot of Type 2 diabetics see that as a treatment of last resort, and if they have to start on insulin they have somehow failed. I thought that way myself for quite a while. Now I know better.

The needles are not much thicker than a human hair, and less than half an inch long. The injections are about as close to completely painless as one could imagine. And best of all, the dosage is infinitely adjustable. With pills, you just don’t have that level of control. Besides, if you’re pushing your body to prodiuce more and more insulin, eventually your pancreas may just give up.

Insulin through history

Insulin was discovered early in the 20th century, and until recent years it was a byproduct of the slaughterhouse, refined from beef and pork pancreases. But drug manufacturers have since discovered how to make human insulin using genetically modified bacteria, and that was first marketed in 1982. The insulins we have today, produced by recombinant DNA, are nearly identical to what the human pancreas creates–they’re just modified a bit to allow for different times of effectiveness. The human insulins, not surprisingly, work better for most people and cause fewer problems. But there are some people for whom the animal based insulins are the best choice, and they are still available, but only under conditions where they are medically necessary. All insulin sold in the USA today is bio-engineered human.


I’m having to learn a few new things and think ahead. Originally I was just doing one injection at bedtime, but it wasn’t working quite well enough. Now I do one injection before breakfast and one before dinner (different insulin formulation than what I started with). I’ll have to be prepared to take a filled syringe with me when we go out to eat (ordered some cases from the Insulin Case Shoppe yesterday). I have to check my blood sugar more often while I’m making the adjustments in the dose. C’est la vie. I want to live.

I wish there were a good diabetes education program in a nutshell so the average person knew what was going on. Maybe I should write it myself.

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Author: infmom

Otherwise known as Infamous Mom.

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