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My Diabetes, and Most Probably Yours

(John Armstrong is the former Science Editor of the Vancouver Sun and author of two books, Guilty of Everything and Wages. He has written for various tv and film projects and is currently working on two new books. He lives in British Columbia.)

I couldn't have done a better job of becoming diabetic if I'd set out to do it. Lifelong weight loss and gain, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, smoking and other Bad Habits ... there's a quiz on this site and in retrospect I can see I pretty much aced it. Full marks. Hurray for me. I'd had the symptoms and warning signs so long I didn't even notice them. I thought everybody over 50 pee'd every 10 minutes.

It's no consolation to find out that I'm not alone in this - the International Diabetes Federation estimates 438 million people will have diabetes within 20 years. and almost all of them will have what you and I have: Diabetes Type 2, or Diabetes Mellitus. It's the Modern Plague and it looks like it will get worse, very much worse, before it gets better.

I was diagnosed at age 53 when I changed doctors and my new GP wanted current blood and cardio testing. (My old doctor told me to lose weight and quit smoking when I saw him, and I told him I would, and then we both forgot about it until I saw him again.)

I also forgot about the blood test until the doctor's office called me in and his first words to me were: "I hate to tell you, but your'e diabetic, buddy." You've got to love a doctor who calls you "buddy."

Two things happen when you discover you're diabetic. First, you're scared to death and when you recover slightly from that, there's a mad rush for information. The number one question is usually along the lines of "How do I get rid of it now that I know I have it."

There is no permanent cure for diabetes, either Type 1, which some are born with, or the much more common Diabetes Type 2.

But ....

you can successfully manage and control, and even reverse the early warning signs and symptoms by making some not very difficult changes in your life. Diabetes 2 is the Fat and Lazy Disease, and I'll bet you can see where this is going. If you got diabetes by being fat and lazy .... exactly.

While the strategy for getting your blood sugar levels under control and holding your diabetes at bay is fairly easy, you have to wade through many, many pages of confusing and often conflicting advice to find the simplest and best methods.
You will also start off with great intentions, high hopes and enthusiasm, and then you quite likely will screw up, get disappointing results and feel even worse than you do right now.

I did, and that's why I decided to create this website. I spent a long time as a journalist and researcher and even with those skills I made some easy to avoid mistakes before finally getting on the right track. If any of what I've learned so far helps you avoid those, please take it with my best wishes.

I've tried to keep everything as simple as possible while still getting as much reliable information out as I can.

Let's get started .... click the tab at the top of the page for a short quiz about symptoms and factors for Diabetes Type 2

If you took the quiz and came back, I'm guessing you may have a strong suspicion you are type 2 diabetic or you may have skipped the quiz because you have already been diagnosed. You are also more than likely frightened, and that's good, because you need to take it seriously. But it's not all bad news. Read on -

What is Diabetes Type 2, and What Causes It?

Many Type 2 Diabetics go undiagnosed even though they clearly have signs that put them at high risk for developing diabetes mellitus, formerly called "adult onset diabetes" but now generally referred to as "Type 2." Type 1 is a very different disease in many ways. (Click the tab at the top of the page for an explanation of the differences between Diabetes Type 1 and 2.)

The two main factors that greatly increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes are:

Risk #1: Being Overweight

- which is the polite way of saying "fat" and it's the fat, not the weight, that is the problem. Especially stomach fat.

Here's Why: Stomach fat is caused by overeating - eating more calories than your body needs as fuel. Food turns to blood sugar (glucose) and too much food causes your pancreas to release high levels of insulin in order for your body to absorb the calories and to keep your blood sugar levels from rising too high.

This causes three things you don't want to happen:

- the insulin tells your your liver to manufacture more fat, and causes the fat cells in your belly to store that fat. Your pancreas works harder and harder and releases more and more insulin.

- your body becomes "insulin resistant" and no matter how much insulin your body produces, you can't process the sugar and your levels become too high, which causes all sorts of problems.

That's not good, and neither is this

- insulin also increases your appetite, and round and round we go, and rounder and rounder we get.

Result: Diabetes Mellitus, or Diabetes Type 2.

(Want to know why it's called Diabetes Mellitus? Diabetes is from the Latin word for "siphon", which makes sense to diabetics who feel like they zip up and walk out of the bathroom and have to turn around and walk back in again, and mellitus is Latin for "honey".

Roman doctors would taste their patients urine for sweetness if they suspected diabetes.  Chinese doctors would just set a dish of the urine sample down and see if it attracted ants.)  

Risk # 2: Sedentary Lifestyle

Or, as your mother would have put it, Sitting Around. Not very many of us have jobs where we get real exercise and unlike our ancestors, we don't have to hunt our food or run from animals that want to turn us into food. (Not to mention how much our diet has changed, but we'll get to that.)

Lack of exercise and obesity gang up on us; it's just too easy to take in calories and too hard for us to work them off - a lack of exercise and too much fat are the single greatest cause of heart disease, something which diabetics are at increased risk for. Along with heart attack, long-term complications of high blood sugar include strokes, amputations, blindness and kidney failure.

Ready for some good news? Type 2 Diabetes and its symptoms can be controlled through fairly simple diet and exercise. We'll get to them but first, the number one question every new Type 2 Diabetic asks:


"Will I have to Inject Insulin?" (drumroll .... the audience leans forward in their seats ....)

and the answer is .... NO.

It is extremely rare for Diabetes Type 2 patients to need insulin injections. Type 1 Diabetics need to inject insulin because their bodies do not manufacture insulin at all. If you're really down in the dumps, console yourself with the knowledge that at least you aren't type 1. Type 1 diabetics can live long and happy lives, but their situation is much more difficult to deal with and requires constant monitoring.

Can Type 2 (Diabetes Mellitus) be Cured?

Yes and No - Yes, in the sense that if you get your blood sugar levels under control, you'll be at no special risk for any high blood sugar complications and can prevent completely the long-term consequences of diabetes mellitus. We're talking about blindness, stroke, heart attack, gangrene and amputation, kidney failure ..... a grim list.

But no, Diabetes 2 can't be cured the way that other diseases can be cured, by a dose of something or an operation. It's the difference between going bald and having dandruff - dandruff can be gotten rid of with a medicated shampoo but once you've lost it, your hair is gone for good. You might was well try to grow hair on an egg.

The same goes for diabetes 2: the damaged cells that produced insulin are not coming back anymore than Uncle Frank's hair.

But you're better off than Uncle Frank - for one, chances are you still have your hair and for another, you haven't lost all of the insulin function of your pancreas, just enough to cause problems controlling blood sugar. Now we're going to see what we can do to give your pancreas a fighting chance.

What Do I Do to Reverse My Type 2 Diabetes?

Start doing two things you already knew you should be doing, because now you have some very good motivation: lose weight and exercise.

Neither of these has to be as difficult as you think and even a small improvement can help manage and control your diabetes symptoms.

Lose weight

 This is the single most important thing you can do for yourself. Research has proved that even a 5 to 10 per cent loss - just 20 pounds for a 200-pound man - can be enough to keep you off medications.

Chances are you've been battling your weight for a long time but the odds are really better than you think they are: A 2005 study at UCLA found that in only three weeks of diet and exercise a test group of diabetics and pre-diabetics no longer met the criteria for Diabetes 2. You may not make it in 21 days but you can have great results very quickly with only a few changes in your life.

Click the Diets tab at the top of the page for Best Diets, Food Lists and other proven, successful weight loss information for diabetes 2 symptoms.

(You'll see the phrase BMI ( Body Mass Index ) a lot when you look for information about diet and weight loss. This is a method of measuring what your best body weight is but new research shows that waist size seems to be a more important factor in diabetes risk than BMI. Click the tab at the top of the page to learn more about this.

Diabetes, Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

The question new diabetics ask right after the one about insulin is - "What can I eat? Everything has sugar in it. I'm not allowed to have sugar."

Well, you'll be happy to hear that's it's nowhere near as bad as you think. But shopping, cooking and eating with diabetes requires a whole section of its own. Click the tabs  at the top of the page for information about sugar, alternative sweeteners, suggestions, diet information, food lists for diabetics, menu planning and more.

Exercise for Type 2 Diabetes (Diabetes Mellitus)

The same goes for exercise as it does above, for diet. You don't need to become a marathon runner or a bodybuilder to control your diabetes. You don't even need to join a gym or the local YMCA though it's a idea great if you can. Click the tab at the top of the page more information and suggestions for exercise tailored to diabetics.

Your Metabolism: Is it Good, Is It Bad and Can You Fix it?

You've probably read or been told that "diabetes 2 is is a Metabolic Disorder.'

What does that mean?

Simply, "metabolism" is the process that your body uses to convert the food you eat into fuel for your body. Humans run primarily on glucose, or blood sugar. So when someone says diabetes is a metabolic disorder, they just mean that the body isn't converting food into energy properly. Click the Metabolism tab at the top of the page for foods to boost your metabolism and burn calories.

Living with Diabetes Type 2:

Try to remember that diabetes isn't some evil lottery ticket, where you were just moseying along, living your life and someone pulled your name out ofa hat and said, "Bam! We've got a winner! Diabetes! Here you go."

Like me, you had Diabetes 2 for a long time before you knew you had it. And before you had it you were working on getting it. It took a lifetime to develop diabetes but it won't take anywhere near that long to regain control of your body and start living a healthier, longer life. You may very well live a longer and happier, healthier life because you had to make changes to confront this disease.That's not such a bad consolation prize.

Good luck to all of us.