November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and health care professionals are reporting that the level of awareness and new treatments for the condition have greatly improved.
“It seems that almost every day we learn new findings from research about diabetes,” Dr. Etie Moghissi, an endocrinologist at Marina Del Rey Hospital and the vice president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, told The Argonaut.
Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2006, according to the American Diabetes Association. It is also the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults aged 20 to 74 and the leading cause of kidney failure. According to the National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2007 was the most recent year available for statistics.
Moghissi says the medical community and people afflicted with diabetes are much more well informed about the disease than a decade ago.
“We have become a lot smarter about managing diabetes,” she said.
On Jan. 25, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Victoza, a new treatment for those with adult, or Type II diabetes. The pill is intended to help lower blood sugar levels along with diet, exercise, and selected other diabetes medicines. It is not recommended as initial therapy in patients who have not achieved adequate diabetes control on diet and exercise alone, FDA representatives say.
“Diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability, with more than 1.5 million new cases diagnosed annually,” Mary Parks, M.D., director of the division of metabolism and endocrinology products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said after Victoza’s approval was announced. “Controlling blood sugar levels is very important to preventing or reducing the long-term complications of diabetes, and Victoza offers certain patients with Type II diabetes a treatment option for controlling their blood glucose levels.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl says he stays healthy with a combination of eating wisely, staying active and having a positive attitude. Rosendahl, 65, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2002 when he was an executive at the now defunct cable television station Adelphia Communications.
“Frankly, I was drinking too much soda and didn’t realize that drinking all of that sugar was a contributing factor to my diagnosis,” the councilman said.
Rosendahl is frequently seen on weekends at a variety of events, including neighborhood picnics and city-related functions, sprinting from place to place around his 11th Council District.
He says he eats a healthy breakfast of organic avocados and tomatoes each morning with eggs, which gives him a good start to a day that can often last as long as 12 to 15 hours.
“I’m also very disciplined and compliant with my medication,” the councilman added.
Dr. Steven Yoon, a sports medicine specialist with the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Westchester, says diabetes should not be a deterrent to leading an active life and in fact, diabetics can and do participate in sports competitively.
“At any given time, an athlete can be diagnosed with diabetes,” Yoon said. “Knowing how your body responds to a lack of insulin is critical to an athlete who has diabetes.”
While there have been new therapies and medication to control and manage diabetes, the United States has seen a rapid growth in juvenile, or Type I diabetes. According to Moghissi, there are 24 million people who have the disease and another 67 million people with prediabetes, a condition that puts people at increased risk for diabetes.
Prediabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. The condition occurs in almost all cases before the onset of Type II diabetes, according to the association.
There are 57 million people in the United States who have prediabetes and recent research has shown that prediabetes can cause some long-term damage to the body, especially heart disease.
Moghissi, who is also a clinical associate professor of medicine at UCLA, says sometimes diabetes in adults can be arrested with a more active lifestyle, healthier eating habits and weight loss.
“At times it can go into remission,” the endocrinologist said. “We have seen this in people who have lost a significant amount of weight.”
Sometimes leaving diabetes untreated can be dangerous. Rock musician turned cable television reality personality Bret Michaels is part of Stop Diabetes!, a national diabetes prevention campaign launched this year. Michaels, who announced that he was diabetic after he collapsed onstage in 1987, has been diagnosed with Type I diabetes since he was 6 years old. He now raises money for the American Diabetes Association.
Yoon says athletes with diabetes who compete in high school and college sports, and even professional players can often perform at high levels if they take proper precautions.
“Many compete quite successfully,” the doctor said. “In no way does having diabetes decrease your ability as an athlete.”
Former tennis star Billie Jean King is one of those athletes. The former Wimbledon champion is also participating in Stop Diabetes! aimed at preventing the disease.
“As a person living with Type II diabetes, I am committed to ending the devastating toll diabetes takes on all of us,” King says in a campaign video. “Yes, it took a lot of hard work to win championships but at this phase in my life my top priority is managing my health.”
The association uses the glycemic index to measure how different types of foods that contain carbohydrates can affect blood glucose levels. Diabetic athletes should have a diet that consists of foods with low glycemic index ratings.
While public awareness has grown, some myths about diabetes still linger, such as how diabetics cannot consume sugary foods.
“A person with diabetes can eat everything, including sugar, in moderation,” Moghissi stated. “I tell my patients that what is important is a balance between different food groups.”
Fruit salads, for example, are a good meal for a diabetic athlete because they provide for long-lasting sustained energy and are an excellent source of fiber, says the association’s Web site.
“Along with managing their insulin levels and setting aside the time to take their medication, it’s important for athletes with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels and maintain proper diet control,” said Yoon.
For those suffering from diabetes who want to lose weight, doctors say portion control is key. “It’s a very important part of managing weight and diabetes,” Moghissi said.
Because government work can at times be stressful, Rosendahl says keeping a positive and upbeat attitude is important for his physical as well as his emotional health.
“You really have to learn to manage your stress, and that’s very challenging given all of the community issues that I deal with,” Rosendahl noted. “I get good exercise everyday because my exercise is my work, but I mediate and try to keep a positive attitude about life as well.”
Working with professionals who are knowledgeable in diabetes is also key to staying healthy, Moghissi said.
“Patients are at the center and the most important member of the healthcare team. So stay informed and surround yourself with the right team,” the doctor said.