The 14th of November is World Diabetes Day. This post was written by one of my oldest friends, a fabulous woman and true warrior, Hanna Boëthius, a certified nutrition coach and expert on her own diabetes. Diabetes is an illness that has an immense impact on life. The sherocksabun pocket scarves recently found their way into the lives of diabetics, who always need to carry several items with them. One little accessory that can make life a tad easier. I want to make a difference in the world and so does Hanna, hence we teamed up to provide some further insights into the illness that millions of people have no choice but to live with. x Ida
“Only fat/old people get diabetes. Right?!”
Would you believe that I’ve lived with diabetes for 34 years this year, since I was two years old?
Diabetes is a world-wide pandemic at this stage, with 450 million people currently diagnosed with a type of diabetes. The number of undiagnosed people is also unknown. This number is not going to decrease, but unfortunately only increase further. How sad is that in this day and age?
Diabetes mellitus is latin for what you call a group of disorders that cause higher-than-normal blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body. The physiology, in short, goes a little something like this: even in “healthy” people, when you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. This tells the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin, which acts as a “key” that allows glucose to enter the cells from the blood. If your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to lower these levels, it can’t function properly. This is when diabetes enters the stage.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications by damaging blood vessels and organs. It can increase the risk of “fun” things like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage and/or eye disease.
Controlling blood sugar
This is why it’s so incredibly important for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugars within range! It’s important to work hard at avoiding high blood sugars (hyperglycemia, if we want to be fancy about it), as well as low blood sugars (hypoglycemia). Whereas too low blood sugar can become acutely dangerous, high blood sugars, and certainly volatile and jumpy blood sugar values can cause more damage to organs and blood vessels.
Although there are ten different types of diabetes (plus a few variations!), you often only hear about two of them, Type 1 and Type 2. If that, usually they’re sadly just bunched together as a “diabetes” blanket statement. Unfair, I say, as they are very different.
Let’s keep it simple and distinguish between the two main types, although all types of diabetes matter.
So, what is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 is often diagnosed in children but is also commonly diagnosed in adults. It develops through the immune system turning against the body’s own insulin producing beta cells and destroys them, meaning that it is an auto-immune condition (thanks for that, immune system!). The reason for why this happens is still unknown. The only treatment we have available is exogenous insulin to compensate for the missing beta cells. This is taken through injections or an insulin pump, for example (more on the tech-y part below!)
While some are genetically more prone than others to develop Type 1 Diabetes, it could also hit your family out of the blue – diabetes (unfortunately) doesn’t discriminate! What’s important to know, is that Type 1 Diabetes can’t be prevented and there is no cure. Yet. I’ve been promised one in the next “5-10 years” for 34 years now… And no, I didn’t get T1D because I ate too much candy/gluten/milk before diagnosis! And it’s not the same as your great-aunt had (and lost a foot from, and, oh, she was also blind). Furthermore, cinnamon and okra water won’t cure my broken pancreas.
With that in mind, what is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 is often diagnosed in the over 40’s but is increasingly also among younger people. This is where the body becomes less able to respond to insulin (insulin resistant). The body tries to compensate by making more insulin, but if the cells don’t recognize it, high blood sugars will be the result. You start off treating this type with pills and/or diet, but insulin may be needed, too. Taking care of your health with exercise, eating real food, managing stress, along with other lifestyle factors, can help prevent develop (or even reverse, in some cases!) Type 2 Diabetes. Knowledge is power – the more you know, the more you can do about it!
How do you even know if you have diabetes? Your body will certainly tell you, but most of the symptoms can be a little diffuse to decipher – some think they just have a bad case of the flu! Or what would your first thought of these be?
You’re very tired, you are more hungry than normal. Yet you’ve noticed some weight loss (yay, right?!). There is a slight tingle in your left foot, but it’s “probably nothing”. You feel like a camel at times and could drink several liters of water at once (but water is good for you!). It also explains that you’ve needed to go to the bathroom more often lately. Sometimes, your vision is a bit blurry, but that’s because of the screen time, you think. And you do have that small wound that just won’t heal properly…
Add to these, the specific ones for Type 1 Diabetes to finally write it all off as just a nasty bug, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting and fruity breath. You should just rest, right?
Almost all of them can be explained by our modern, busy lives! Work, kids, pets, house, errands, and so on, not to mention that you caught a nasty bug at the last get together!
Type 1 Diabetes – A potentially life-threatening situation
We’re talking about a potentially life-threatening situation here. In the case of Type 1 Diabetes, because many of the symptoms are easily explained by something else, many are diagnosed only when they are brought into the ER with severe dehydration, a lot of ketone bodies in the blood and on the brink of death. All health checks, especially when going to the doctor for something like the “flu”, should come with mandatory blood sugar checks to find out what’s going on earlier! Again, knowledge is power and early detection is key!
So, what’s that on your arm?
If you see someone strutting their stuff with something that looks like a button on their arm, or an oddly shaped rectangular thing stuck to them, chances are you’ve caught a diabetic in the wild!
These tools are extremely helpful, as they help people with diabetes keep track of their blood sugars more easily, which is the key to good diabetes management. They’re called Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems and have brand names such as Freestyle Libre (the button), Dexcom or Medtronic. They measure blood glucose levels through a sensor that is injected underneath the skin, and is exchanged every 7, 10 or 14 days (depending on the manufacturer).
A 90’s pager
If you see someone with what looks like a pager from the 90’s, chances are it’s an insulin pump. The insulin pump delivers man-made insulin 24/7 through a cannula that gets changed every couple of days. Injecting insulin can also be done with insulin pens (harder to detect in the open) or syringes. Each diabetic needs to find a system that fits them the best to treat their diabetes and keep their blood sugars within range.
Diabetes technology has given us fantastic tools to manage our blood sugars, our condition and even our peace of mind. At the same time, it can become stressful to some people, and feel like your life is ruled by values, doses and numbers.
There is no cure for diabetes – yet
Even if there is no cure for diabetes and it is an extremely trying and heavy illness, you can still enjoy at great life and thrive with, and despite, it. You need to find out what tools work for you, especially beyond conventional health care’s recommendations. Your lifestyle choices may have a bigger impact than you know!
As you can tell from the list above, people with diabetes need to carry along a lot of stuff, blood sugar meter, test strips, lancing device, insulin (pens/pump/syringes), glucose tablets (in case the blood sugar goes too low), perhaps a snack, and so on, which is why it’s so great that people like Ida at sherocksabun create products that can be used for exactly this!