close-up of a woman removing blood from her finger for a blood test

Diabetes is in the news. Most recently, celebrity chef Paula Deen made headlines by revealing that she has Type 2 diabetes. Further, Deen has become a spokesperson for a diabetes medication that she claims is controlling her disease.

Reaction to Deen’s announcement was mixed, and many physicians point out that controlling diabetes should involve much more than taking a pill. “Everybody wants the quick fix that can just be taken in the morning with a sip of water, but overall this will not work,” says Dr. Michael Reschak, a physician specializing in internal medicine at Des Peres Hospital.

“If you continue to put butter and cream in every meal that you make and think that by just taking a medicine, you are counteracting their effects, then you are destined to fail in controlling your diabetes,” he says. “There must be a balance between diet and exercise. The medicines only help a little with your sugar controlled through diet.”

Dr. James Loomis, a physician specializing in internal medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital, agrees. “Think of Type 2 diabetes, along with obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as a fire raging in our society. It seems that we have elected to try and put out this fire by buying more fire trucks (i.e. medications) instead of trying to get rid of the fuel (i.e. unhealthy eating and physical inactivity) that is feeding the fire,” he says. That said, Loomis notes that medications are sometimes needed for optimal blood sugar control or may be required until the patient makes the needed dietary or exercise changes.

Gaining and maintaining that control is critical. “Most of the complications of poorly controlled diabetes are related to the effect of elevated blood sugar on both large and small blood vessels,” Loomis says. “Diseases of the large blood vessels can lead to heart disease and stroke. Diseases of the small blood vessels include retinopathy (eye disease), which can lead to blindness, and kidney disease, which can lead to renal failure.”

To help individuals make good choices, most hospitals and health systems offer support groups and informational programs. Physicians also can refer patients for individual sessions with registered dietitians. An article in the February 2012 issue of the journal Diabetes Care, reporting on a large, long-term study, says that lifestyle counseling helps people more quickly lower their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Type 2 diabetes is fundamentally a lifestyle disease,” Loomis notes. “Diabetes does run in families; having a pre-disposition to Type 2 diabetes just makes it that much more important to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Reschak agrees and sums up with this advice: “The most important message is to change our lifestyle away from fast food and processed foods toward more fruits and vegetables. They cost more per meal, but in the long run, you will feel better and spend less on treatment in the future.”