Cure, care and commitment are words the American Diabetes Association lives by.

According to the association, 18.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, but an astounding 5.2 million people are unaware that they have the disease.

The association hopes to make the public more aware of diabetes and its risks this month, which is American Diabetes Month.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone necessary to convert sugar and other food into the energy needed for daily life.

The cause of diabetes is still unknown, but studies show that both genetics and factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.

Americans are most commonly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which results from insulin resistance combined with relative insulin deficiency, association officials say.

What many people don’t realize is that the long-term complications of diabetes can include eye problems, kidney problems and cardiovascular disease, they say.

“People don’t take diabetes seriously enough or understand the severity of the disease,” says Pamela Morasse, a registered nurse who has facilitated classes for newly diagnosed diabetics.

Morasse says that in her classes new diabetics found it hardest to cope with the change in diet and, once they realized the severity of the disease, many had a fear of dying.

“It’s important to maintain a balanced diet and exercise,” Morasse says. “Exercise is like a free medication. Diabetics don’t need as much insulin when they exercise regularly.”

She also emphasizes that if a diabetic is on medication, it’s important to take the medication as prescribed.

Deborah Lotz, owner of Jewel Box Frames in Santa Monica, understands how devastating diabetes can be. Her brother Christopher, awaiting the birth of his first child, died unexpectedly from complications from diabetes at the age of 37.

Lotz says her brother was stricken with brittle juvenile diabetes, but as an adult at the age of 21. She says it started for him with insatiable thirst and vision problems. Brittle diabetes is a type of diabetes in which a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high.

As he lived with his diabetes, many people didn’t understand his symptoms and often thought he was under the influence of alcohol, when it was just that his blood sugar was low.

Lotz offers her advice to families with a diabetic:

“Be there to support them. Family support is so much a part of them being able to stay in good health.”

Lotz says the last time she saw her brother was at a Thanksgiving celebration. To honor Christopher and to raise awareness of the disease, Lotz and her sister Kathleen will hold a special sale event at Jewel Box, 3100 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, Friday and Saturday, November 26th and 27th.

At the heart of the event is their desire to raise awareness of the disease as well as money for the Junior Diabetes Research Fund.

Besides offering discounts on items in the store, Lotz will have information on diabetes available for her customers.

“It’s something I can do on a personal level so the public can get knowledge about diabetes,” Lotz says.

She hopes the information available will make customers stop and think and pass the information on to another person.

The diabetes association says diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem harmless. As with many other diseases, studies indicate that early detection and treatment can decrease the chance of developing complications from diabetes.

Diabetes symptoms to look for include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, fatigue, sores that won’t heal, irritability and blurry vision.

During American Diabetes Month, the American Diabetes Association hopes to increase awareness of the link between diabetes and heart disease through a program called “Make the Link!”

The association says more than 65 percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke, and that with diabetes, heart attacks occur earlier in life and often result in death.

“Make the Link!” emphasizes that managing diabetes, as well blood pressure and cholesterol, can help reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke.

The association raises awareness and money through various events to fund prevention and a cure for diabetes and to improve the lives of all affected by the disease.

Besides its America’s Walk for Diabetes, the association raises funds through the Tour de Cure, a series of cycling events, and School Walk for Diabetes.

The association also funds diabetes camps for children and teenagers who have diabetes.

Eliminating feelings of isolation by being a part of a group where everyone has diabetes, the kids get to know others who face the same challenge, have fun and learn something along the way.

The American Diabetes Web site at www.diabetes.org provides information about symptoms, drugs, recent research, and risk factors for developing diabetes, as well as tips on healthy eating and exercise.

Information on the Jewel Box event, Deborah Lotz (310) 828-6900.

Julie Kirst can be reached at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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