This is American Diabetes Month, designated to heighten our awareness of a disease that is occurring more and more often, especially with Kentuckians.
Some 400,000 of us either have been diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes or we have indicators that say we are well on our way to having it. We know so many relatives or friends who are diabetic that we've become rather cavalier about the risks of the disease.
That's not good.
There are two main forms of diabetes. Type 1 — formerly called juvenile diabetes — occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone that allows sugar or glucose to enter cells to produce energy. Insulin lowers the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. There is no cure for Type 1, but it can be managed.
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Type 2 — formerly called adult-onset diabetes — is the most common form of the disease. It occurs when the body resists the effects of insulin or fails to produce enough. Nobody knows why that happens, but it has been linked to genetics, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
That doesn't mean everyone who eats and sits too much will be diabetic, but that lifestyle can increase your chances of developing it.
A healthy diet and exercise would go a long way toward decreasing the incidents of Type 2 diabetes, said Dr. Kristina Humphries, an endocrinologist with Borders and Associates in Lexington, "but that takes a lot of hard work to get where you need to be."
There is no magic pill to turn things around. "We need a lot of help from the person," she said.
If that is the case, then I have a few friends who aren't doing their part.
They eat everything that isn't tied down and exercise little or not at all. A couple of them have a slew of other medical issues to contend with.
What can friends and family members do to wake them up?
"Be supportive and try to help them make better choices," Humphries said. "Don't badger them. We're not trying to create a society of runway models. We just want them healthy and exercising."
Unlike what I have thought for years, eating a dessert occasionally isn't necessarily a bad thing for diabetics. I can't remember how many times I've chastised my friends for that.
Humphries said they can have anything they want, but they must think of their caloric intake as a finite amount. It's like having a budget.
"You have to look at the calories and decide where you want to spend them," she said.
If you eat a piece of chocolate cake, you have to take that off somewhere else. Give up some bread or other starch.
For Thanksgiving, she said, build your meal around proteins. Eat more turkey or ham and a salad, and make the side dishes subordinate.
"That gives you more room for something like chess pie," she said. Mmm, that's my favorite. "You shouldn't have to give that up."
And just as important as a balanced diet is exercise. There are so many ways to incorporate movement into our lives. The Lexington-Fayette Division of Parks and Recreation offers several free aerobics classes and has six community centers that offer free gym time.
If nothing else, a good walk around your neighborhood will help.
If you have questions, the American Diabetes Association in Lexington is sponsoring a "Talk Diabetes" program that is open to the public. It will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Kentucky Room at Keeneland Race Course. A panel of diabetes experts, including doctors, dietitians and pharmacists, will answer questions, and vendors will offer more information. Later, as a part of the ADA's annual meeting, volunteers will be recognized.
Lisa Edwards, director of the local ADA affiliate, said parking is available through Keeneland's Gate 2. For more information and to reserve a spot, call at (859) 268-9129 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bottom line is that we have to change the way we live if we want to live longer and healthier.
"Think of it as a process," Humphries said. "This is a marathon, not a sprint."