November is American Diabetes Month & it’s a time for us to come together to Stop Diabetes. Diabetes is especially close to my heart because my Grandmother died in 2010 due to diabetes complications. My grandmother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and I will explain what that means later. But she diligently took her insulin injections but never changed her diet. I honestly believe that she thought as long as she takes her medicine she would be fine. Unfortunately this is a common theme in our community, as we have not changed the way we prepare our foods and eating habits because we fear it will not taste good.
The truth is that healthy food can taste good and frankly I will eat healthy food in exchange for not losing a toe, limb or my eyesight. I want to make sure you understand the different types of diabetes and why we have so many friends and relatives that are losing their lives to this disease.
Affects of Diabetes on African American Community
Diabetes affects the African American community at a disproportionate rate. There is a direct correlation between obesity and diabetes. In our community we are 51% more likely to be obese than our Caucasian counterparts. There are several factors that contribute to these statistics. The foods that have been passed down from our ancestors were not prepared healthy (fried, cooked with oil) nor did we eat the healthy parts of different meats out of necessity. Many African Americans do not know how to eat healthy, which explains obesity continuing from generation to generation. There are two main types of diabetes that people can receive as a diagnosis.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
The pancreas is the organ that secretes insulin (a hormone needed to allow sugar [glucose] to enter cells to produce energy). Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas has been destroyed by autoantibodies so it produces little or no insulin. This diagnosis usually occurs before the age of 20. It was formally called juvenile onset diabetes. These patients need insulin either injected or through an insulin pump.
What is Type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes happens when the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin. There is a direct correlation between people who drink sugary drinks, eat lots of sweets and few fruits and vegetables, and being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. These people tend to be morbidly obese. Their obesity leads to their body becoming resistant to the effects of insulin. Diet and exercise can treat Type 2 diabetes because their problem is not caused by autoantibodies but due to resistance caused by obesity or genetics.
Some of these patients may need oral medications and eventually insulin if diet and exercise do not improve their blood sugar levels. Diabetes destroys vessels, therefore it is imperative that patients keep their blood pressure under control to prevent heart disease and stroke. The blood vessels in the eyes can also be affected by diabetes which is why vision loss is common in uncontrolled diabetes. Foot or leg amputation is due to peripheral artery disease which is caused by the clogging of the blood vessels due to diabetes, they need to regularly go to the podiatrist to have their extremities checked.
Anyone in our community that is overweight should definitely ask their doctor for a fasting blood sugar test. There are also a few symptoms that someone may be diabetic:
Feeling very thirsty
Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
Weight loss – even though you are eating more (type 1)
Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)
How can we change the statistics?
Diabetes is a very serious illness and when not properly treated can result in vision loss, foot and/or leg amputation, severe heart disease and death. At the end of the day African Americans of all ages need to eat right and exercise.
We all enjoy soul food but we need to enjoy a healthier version and smaller portion. Type 2 diabetes is affecting younger and younger people because of the obesity rates in our community. Now that more and more people under 35 years of age are being diagnosed, they no longer call it Type 2 Adult onset diabetes. Please talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms or are concerned that you may become a diabetic.
BMWK, do you have a family member with diabetes? How did it change their life?