Preventing Diabetes

Group of men in park, outstretching arms against sun, rear view

Paul Sutherland

Everyone knows someone who has type II diabetes. More than 24 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes, although many of them don’t know it yet. Even more important are the 57 million people who are pre-diabetic, and for whom diabetes could be prevented. When it comes to diabetes, prevention is the best approach, because its complications can be considerable. “No one dies from diabetes; they die from its complications,” says Dr. Michael Berk, an endocrinologist and clinical professor at Washington University School of Medicine.

    Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of blindness, a top cause of going on kidney dialysis and a major cause of heart attacks, strokes and erectile dysfunction, among other things, Berk says. “We’re seeing many younger people showing up in our office with type II diabetes. We never used to see people until they were in their 50s,” he says. “Now we are seeing them in their 20s, and pediatricians are seeing teenagers, all because of the rising incidence of obesity. Another major group is women who gain too much weight during pregnancy and have gestational diabetes. If they don’t lose that extra weight after pregnancy, they are at high risk for type II diabetes later.”

        Unlike type I juvenile diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder, type II diabetes can be prevented by losing weight or not becoming obese in the first place, says Berk. “Despite what you may hear about diabetes, it is a disease that you can prevent. Because we are seeing this at a much younger age, we appeal to parents to help their children and teenagers eat healthier and become much more active, restricting use of computers and video games to keep this from becoming an issue.”

    Berk also points out that preventing diabetes is a quality of life issue: It’s not how long we live, but how well. Instead of waiting until we are diagnosed with diabetes to get ourselves together, lose weight and become more active, it’s much easier on our bodies to do those things now to prevent serious complications.

    Chiropractor Jason Rhodes is with Restore Health Center, a nutritional clinic. He sees diabetics who have been referred by their primary physicians or other patients to help manage the disease nutritionally. Rhodes says when people are diagnosed with diabetes, they usually also receive a diabetic diet, but they often don’t really grasp how to change their diet in a way they can tolerate. During the consultation, Rhodes performs blood work, a routine metabolic panel, fasting blood sugar, lipid panel for cholesterol and other tests. “Most hospitals run the pathological ranges for different blood components. We look at the functional range, where it should be if the person is healthy, and we look at whether he is moving in the wrong direction,” he explains. “People with metabolic syndrome, which is pre-diabetic, may show elevated triglycerides, high cholesterol, high LDL, low HDL, high uric acid and an elevated HgA1c. We look at renal function, and we ask the patient to do a food diary for a week, while we’re waiting for lab results to come back.”

    Once Rhodes determines the patient’s status, he designs a personalized diet and supplement plan with a coaching component. “Diabetes is a serious disease, and clients need heavy support, encouragement and nudging to make positive lifestyle changes. They have phone access when they need it, like when they are going to a restaurant and don’t know what to order.”

    Rhodes says part of the coaching process is understanding clients’ busy lifestyle and helping them integrate the changes. “We spend 40 to 50 years developing habits, so breaking them is difficult. Our goal is to coach them into new habits they can sustain, but we can only show the way. The patients have to actually do the work.”  LN