Monday 28 November 2011


What's the most ridiculous thing you've heard about your health or your condition. Was there any context? What did you think at the time you heard it - and what do you think of it now?

As with any chronic health condition, there are always those who think there are magic pills, super foods, or quick fixes to "cure" their disease. From cinnamon cures, to positive affirmations, to the Reader's Digest fiasco this past April (see my response here), misinformation is abundant in the health care community, and diabetes is no exception.

I can't begin to count how many times uneducated or misinformed people have suggested to me that my son got diabetes because he ate too much sugar, or didn't get enough exercise, or because someone else in our family had it. There have been too many, "Oh, I thought diabetes was just an adult disease," and, "Only people who are overweight have diabetes." I used to get mad when people made such ignorant comments, but over the years I have become less inclined to retort with anger and now simply try to correct them in the simplest and quickest way possible.

Type 1 diabetes is not curable, reversible, or stoppable. It can affect anyone of any age, weight, sex, and ethnic background, and it not caused by lifestyle choices. 

Every person in the world relies on insulin to stay alive. Without it we are ALL dead. But for most of us, cells in our pancreas automatically control the amount of insulin we produce. We eat, we produce insulin. We fast, or exercise, our body reduces insulin production. This process happens over and over throughout the day automatically. We don't need to tell our pancreas to secrete insulin any more than we need to tell our heart to beat or our lungs to breathe. It just happens.

In a type 1 diabetic, however, the immune system attacks and kills the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and therefore the patient must obtain insulin from one of two sources, either by injection or by subcutaneously, via an insulin pump. This means they must know exactly how much insulin to take at any given time. Too much, and hypoglycemia occurs, in which case the person needs fast acting sugar immediately or coma, or even death, can occur. Too little insulin, and the result is hyperglycemia, which over time can cause a range of nasty side effects ranging from blindness, to kidney failure, to amputation, and even death. It is a very delicate balance of food intake, activity level, and insulin and a type 1 diabetic must attempt to manage this balance every minute of every day for the rest of their lives.

Let's face it: it sucks. But there are scientists working around the world to make diabetes management easier and more effective so that kids like my son can live a long healthy life. And until there is cure, we will do what we can to manage the disease as best we can: weigh and measure food, count carbs, monitor activity levels, illnesses, growth patterns, weather changes, stress levels, and even mood swings. And take insulin to stay alive.

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