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Diabetes: A talk with the doctor of the nation
CRI President and 17th U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, understands diabetes from many perspectives, including its economic burden for the nation and the emotional toll it takes on patients. - photo by submitted photo /The Covington News

Health facts you may not have known

Men and women who adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet may find that mixing and matching certain foods they eat can greatly improve their overall health. While studies have debunked the once accepted notion that vegans and vegetarians do not have enough iron in their diets because they do not eat red meat, it’s important to note that, even though vegetables do provide vegans and vegetarians with a substantial amount of iron, the iron vegans and vegetarians get from grains and vegetables is a different type of iron that is not absorbed as well as the iron found in meat.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by persistent pain in muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Additional symptoms of fibromyalgia, or FM, include fatigue, disturbed sleep and headaches, and these symptoms may be worsened or triggered by a host of factors, such as anxiety, depression, hormonal changes, cold or drafty environments and/or stress. Physical overexertion is another possible trigger of FM, which the American Medical Association notes is the second most common disorder diagnosed by rheumatologists. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity & Disability notes that a healthy lifestyle that includes routine exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, helps many people with FM more effectively manage their symptoms while preventing a decline in muscle strength, endurance and cardiovascular function. Exercise also improves oxygen delivery to muscles and reduces muscle tightness, each of which can eventually relieve some of the pain associated with FM.

Though organic foods tend to be more costly, men and women looking to shed a few extra pounds might find it’s worth a few extra dollars to buy organic dairy rather than more traditional and less expensive alternatives. In a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, researchers found that grass-fed cows produced milk containing 500 percent more conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, than cows that were fed grain. That’s a significant distinction for men and women looking to trim down, as CLA can help them burn more fat and gain muscle. Organic dairy products include cheese, milk and yogurt. Organic milk also has been shown to contain roughly 70 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than traditional milk. That, too, is important to note, as omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, two potentially deadly conditions that overweight men and women may be especially susceptible to.

Here in Georgia, diabetes is far too commonplace. Maybe your parents were treated for it, or your grandparents. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed as pre-diabetic or diabetic. For many people, understanding what this disease really is and how it’s treated is complicated.

We spoke with 17th U.S. Surgeon General and Canyon Ranch Institute President Richard H. Carmona to get a clearer picture of diabetes and what we can do to prevent and manage it.

Jan McIntire: Through CRI’s work in Savannah, we’ve heard people say that being diagnosed with diabetes is not a matter of if, but when. Is diabetes inevitable, as so many people seem to believe?

Dr. Carmona: Type 2 diabetes is absolutely preventable, and we know which lifestyle factors to monitor in order to avoid diabetes. Being overweight and being sedentary start a chain reaction that makes the body resistant to insulin, the hormone our bodies needs to process glucose, which is sugar in the blood. The glucose level builds up and can cause serious metabolic problems, which in turn over time can lead to eye, kidney and cardiovascular problems.

Jan McIntire: Some people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. How is it different from type 2?

Dr. Carmona: With type 1, which usually occurs in a person’s mid-teens, the cells that produce insulin are destroyed so the body has little or no insulin at all. That’s a different scenario than type 2 diabetes. When a person has type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin, but the natural levels of that hormone and glucose become out of balance to such an extreme that insulin production and efficiency are impaired.

The key factor is that while both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have a genetic — or family history — component, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or controlled by what we eat and how active we are.

Jan McIntire: I’ve heard diabetes called “the sugar disease.” Can eliminating sugary or sweet foods and drinks protect you from it?

Dr. Carmona: It’s not that simple. Our bodies convert all the food we eat — from potatoes to fruit to vegetables, grains, and meat — into glucose, which is the body’s fuel source. When we overload the body’s system with large amounts of sugar-sweetened food or beverages, or too much food of any kind, beyond what the body needs to give you the energy for your level of activity, we are feeding fat cells. Without changing the amount of activity or the amount and type of food, we are setting ourselves up for diabetes.

Jan McIntire: Is there a special diet that can help?

Dr. Carmona: Yes there is, and here’s an important point: it’s the same recommendation we make to people who don’t have diabetes. I say “recommendation” because the word “diet” implies that you eat certain foods for a while, and then you go back to your previous food habits. Our recommendation is for a permanent lifestyle change that includes whole grain foods, vegetables and fruits, lean meat or fish, limited saturated fats and no trans fats.

Jan McIntire: Can’t it be controlled with medication?

Dr. Carmona: Medications can be helpful in adjusting glucose levels, and anyone who is taking diabetes medicine should always follow a lifestyle “prescription” of healthy eating and regular exercise. In other words, there is no magic pill for diabetes.

Jan McIntire: Where should people start in preventing or treating type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Carmona: Start with a visit to your health professional. Then, stand up and start walking — today. You don’t have to go fast or far. Tomorrow, walk again, and do it the next day and the next. Move every day for the rest of your life. Invite children or grandchildren or friends to keep you company, and notice the good conversation that results.
I never pass up the opportunity to remind people to never use tobacco, always wear a seatbelt, and get all recommended health screenings. Put it all together and you have my prescription for a healthy life.