Lessons learned about diabetes and health part 1

My experience with diabetes is much different than most people’s in that I decided to fight it with exercise, diet and minimal drugs. I started with an A1c of 15.6 about eighteen months ago, dropped it to 5.5 and now varies around 5.6. My glucose in the mornings is +/-100mg/dl. After exercise it can be as low as 75mg/dl, but more often around 85 mg/dl. My weight is slowly moving downwards while my fitness is continually improving.

Diabetes is often a threesome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high glucose. Unfortunately, this unwelcome threesome is one of the secrets that doctors do not tell us. In my case, high diastolic blood pressure preceded everything else by about 10 years. It should have been a warning.

Diabetes is inherited. This does not absolve us from our responsibility in bringing it on prematurely and our responsibilities in dealing with it. We can either handle it maturely or become a pill popping medical experiment. I brought mine on perhaps 10 years prematurely by not doing the basics of good health - exercising, eating healthy and keeping the weight off. I do not intend to be a medical experiment.

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Starting with the basics, exercise is the key to controlling diabetes. As a first step, take your television to the recycling center. It weighs about 30 pounds which when carried will push your heart rate up. This has the added benefit of an immediate IQ increase from not spending hours each day feeding on anti-intelligent junk food. Ever count the clichés per minute in a sitcom? Or have you listened to someone like John Madden during a football game? Has he ever said anything even remotely intelligent? He uses at least 500 inanities/hour. It is mind-numbing. Read a book instead or talk with your spouse for a change. Even better, take a walk, talk to your neighbors and your spouse. You may find out you actually enjoy them. This is much much better than hibernating near the kitchen, wearing out a lounge chair and making your IQ drop.

Now that the television is gone, put on the walking shoes and walk around your block. After a couple weeks of doing that, head for the mountains. I started walking up Blue Mountain from the base unable to make it up without frequent stops. Now it is a yawner. We recently added canoeing. Try using a kayak paddle for two hours and you will understand how this is a great exercise. The key for whatever form of exercise you do is consistency. The goal is at least 30 minutes of raised heart rate at a time at least once a day. An hour a day is better. We are not talking about minimums, so the nonsense of 3 times a week for 30 minutes needs to be trashed. Seven days a week for at least 60 minutes is an achievable goal. Also forget about the warm-up and cool down drivel. Most of us are not going to be competitive athletes. Getting out is the key. Nothing else matters is if we do not get out.

Next is food. This is totally irrelevant without the exercise. First thing is to pour the white sugar on the garden or down the drain. It may be a toxic waste, so check your local laws. When making bread, try using molasses, maple syrup or raw sugar. The bread will rise much higher and better than with white sugar. This should tell you something significant about white sugar’s toxicity – even yeast does not like it. Also, do not use brown sugar as it is white sugar with molasses added after processing. Added to this is white flour. The more processed the food the lower the nutrition in it. It is ironic that what is taken out of white flour by processing is artificially added back. This is definitely counter to common sense. Outlining a volleyball court or marking out a trail race are much better uses for white flour.

Second, get rid of artificial sweeteners. Recent articles in the science journals we read said that these unnatural chemicals are often the cause of weight gain and bring on diabetes. The body knows it is being tricked and maneuvers around the attempted subterfuge. Besides, there is very little known about the long term effects of these artificial disasters by themselves, let alone in conjunction with other food additives. (Isn’t the term “food science” oxymoronic? The basic science is simple: eat minimally processed foods, fresh foods, foods without additives and exercise to be healthy. What other science is needed?) Artificial sweeteners do not change bad habits, just attempt to make us feel less bad about continuing them. They are not lifestyle changers, the key to defeating diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is not about being healthy and beating diabetes. It is mostly about “making people aware” of diabetes. Their literature is mostly worthless for all but the completely uninformed. Everything is oriented towards the “average” person or lower. Therefore the literature is dumbed down. Their main concern is getting people stabilized or controlled and helping them die slowly, not getting people healthy.

Diabetes classes are a good start. Like the ADA they are aimed at the uninformed and new patients. For me, the Reading Hospital class was useful, but the 10 hours of class could have been done in 2 hours. They were trying to reach everyone, so the low level is understandable. The most solid point they made is to exercise. Beyond that, I knew more than the instructors about a lot of it. Admittedly, they were about the minimums, not being healthy. The only really good advice I was given besides exercising to control blood sugar levels, was to read labels. I was shocked at the sugar levels while reading peanut butter jars, salad dressing bottles and yogurt containers! I now make peanut butter and yogurt without sugar while diluting salad dressings with vinegar.

Along with classes, nutritionists may be helpful. We had two appointments with one. Again, this is aimed at the starting or “potato chips are not healthy” level of eating healthy. For those of us with a basic knowledge of nutrition, it can be a good way of reviewing the foods we eat and giving our diets a tune-up. Frozen vegetables are better than canned ones. Boxed meals need to be put in the trash can.

Medications are an important component, but not the dominating component of diabetes. Most of the people I talk with are on metformin. Some are on insulin. For type II diabetes, metformin seems to work at least in the early stages. Insulin is often necessary when diabetes becomes severe. Blood pressure medications like Lisinopril and HCTZ may be necessary. They are often a combination tablet. I am on metformin and a low dose of Lisinopril.

Statins are a standard for diabetics. My decision has been to not take them because the reading I did suggested that they were a drug looking for a condition or disease. Plus, I am uncertain of their side effects. This is my decision and is not necessarily right for anyone else. Hard exercise, 1 hour x 7 days/week may be enough to control the cholesterol and related issues. This is up to the individual and needs to be a well-reasoned decision.

Richard Gardner lives in Upper Bern Township. His passions are ecology and history because with these we are able to understand our world, our place in it and our future.