Diabetes is Devastating

As my blog starts its new direction, I had planned on beginning in my next few posts with some background on my health exploration journey, but a news release about a study from Mayo Clinic that came into my inbox yesterday caused me to revise my plan.

The study in the Rochester, Minn. area identified 116 patients with diabetes and 232 who didn’t have diabetes, but otherwise were matched for heart failure risk factors like age, hypertension, sex, coronary artery disease and diastolic dysfunction.

Following both groups for 10 years, researchers found that 21% of the patients with diabetes developed heart failure, while just 12% of the patients without diabetes did.

So while we’ve long known that diabetes is associated with a host of health problems, here’s fresh evidence of another: almost doubling the risk of heart failure, although in this study it didn’t increase mortality.

Still, this new study adds to what already was a grim prognosis, both for individuals with diabetes and for society as a whole. As this paper in the journal Population Health Management put it:

Diabetes and its complications, deaths, and societal costs have a huge and rapidly growing impact on the United States. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people living with diabetes tripled and the number of new cases annually (incidence) doubled. Adults with diabetes have a 50% higher risk of death from any cause than adults without diabetes, in addition to risk for myriad complications. Reducing this burden will require efforts on many fronts—from appropriate medical care to significant public health efforts and individual behavior change across the nation, through state- and community-specific efforts.

That same paper suggests that in the next decade

  • the total number of Americans with diabetes will increase from 43 million to nearly 55 million,
  • that annual diabetes-related deaths will increase by more than 55,000 and
  • annual diabetes medical costs will go up almost $100 billion.

It all means that preventing (or even reversing) type 2 diabetes is probably the most important thing we can do.

But the statistics are clear: what we’ve been doing as a society for the last 30 years hasn’t been working.

What I’ve been learning and experiencing over the last three years through personal investigation and application suggests that we have more ability to influence this trajectory than we might think.

I’ve read about thousands of patients with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes getting their Hemoglobin A1c levels down to the point where (under medical supervision, of course) they have been able to discontinue taking insulin or diabetes medications, and are no longer considered even prediabetic.

I know some people are skeptical that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, but given the scope of the problem it sure seems worth exploring.

If type 2 diabetes is three times as prevalent as it was a generation ago, this can’t be a genetic problem. Our genes don’t change that fast.

Since changes in our environment and behavior are likely responsible for the epidemic, shouldn’t we look at reversing those changes as much as we can, at least in our personal lives, where we have the most control?

I was never diagnosed as prediabetic, but I’ve made some significant changes and have seen lots of benefits in my own health. I couldn’t have made them all at once, but I evolved them over time.

Type 2 diabetes isn’t the only disease that seems to have potential for lifestyle prevention or reversal. Some of the same interventions seem to work in other diseases, too – mainly because diabetes, as we see in this Mayo Clinic study, is a risk factor for a host of other ailments.

Curious? Follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook and I’ll tell you how it happened.

Turning Back the Clock

There’s something about being 39 that causes people to take stock and try to reclaim the physical abilities they had in their youth. I was no different. When I was six months from my fortieth, I decided to start running and training to take off the 20 or so pounds that had crept on over the years. My goal was to dunk a basketball again…something I hadn’t done since I was 19 or 20.

Starting slowly (and a month before the New Year’s crunch, when the gym gets a lot more crowded), I gradually increased my training on the elliptical machine (low impact was good) and started a weight training program too. By March I was touching the rim again, and I continued to make progress, but couldn’t make the dunk.

Finally, the big day arrived: May 15, 2003. I had taken the day off from work, and went to the local Y to play in a pick-up game. Having played reasonably well, I thought, “Why not give it a try?” To my utter amazement, being really warmed up and having stretched, I slammed it down.

I quickly called my wife, Lisa, and asked her to get down to the Y with our videocamera, to document this for posterity. I’m no Michael Jordan (although we are the same age), but here’s the proof that I made it.

By the way, immediately after reaching this pinnacle I joined the gang you see in the background in another pick-up game…and within 15 minutes had broken my left index finger (my first fracture!) That took me out of training for several weeks, and it’s been downhill since.

This summer has been a good training time too, although now because of life events it’s been a week since I’ve gone running. Making time for training needs to be a priority.