I am almost 51 years old and am in great health. As of this writing, I had completed the Los Angeles Triathlon 9 days ago. Next week, I will be running my 96th marathon in Long Beach, California. I recently had a physical and my HDL was 109 (do you believe that)! I am fortunate in that over the years I have educated myself about nutrition, dietary supplements and the benefits of exercise. I have been privileged to know so many brilliant people who have taught me so much about health and wellness. No doubt that I am one of the fortunate ones to have been exposed to all of this. However, it wasn’t always this good.
Believe it or not, in my adolescent and teen years, I battled weight problems. To my credit, I realized at a very early age maintaining a healthy weight was always going to be a challenge. I made up my mind on several occasions to tackle dieting. I worked very hard in concert with direction from my Mom to lose weight – and lose it sensibly and in a healthy manner. However, as is so often the case, bad habits would return and so would the weight. As a youth, I was a classic yo-yo dieter, first losing 30 pounds and then putting it back on again. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet discovered the profound benefits of exercise.
Then I had my “it” moment. When I was 22 years old, I truly became cognizant of health and wellness. In October of 1982, I saw a world-class triathlete namedJulie Moss stagger to the finish line in the 1982 Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I had never witnessed such determination, drive and a will to succeed. She would not be denied. She changed my world forever.
Fast forward 30 years. During this time, two of my greatest passions became exercise and nutrition. I have competed in approximately 300 endurance events, from ultra marathons to marathons to triathlons to long-distance rough water swims. There is no doubt that “the runner’s high” is the real deal.
I think back and wonder: what if it hadn’t turned out this way? Where would I be now? I may very well have been one of the 13.0 million men (11.8 percent of all men) ages 20 years or older that have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes.
According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC):
- Among U.S. residents ages 65 years and older, 10.9 million, or 26.9 percent, had diabetes in 2010.
- About 215,000 people younger than 20 years had diabetes—type 1 or type 2—in the United States in 2010.
- About 1.9 million people ages 20 years or older were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 in the United States.
- In 2005–2008, based on fasting glucose or hemoglobin A1C levels, 35 percent of U.S. adults ages 20 years or older had pre-diabetes and 50 percent of adults ages 65 years or older had pre-diabetes. Applying this percentage to the entire U.S. population in 2010 yields an estimated 79 million American adults ages 20 years or older with pre-diabetes.
- Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States.
- Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke.
- Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Different Types of Diabetes
For many, there is a lot of confusion about the different types of diabetes. There are 3 main types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes: An autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. A person who has type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live. Currently, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body’s immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S.
Type 2 Diabetes: The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. According to the NDIC, about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to use:
Your body needs various fuels for energy and this disease disrupts normal energy metabolism both at rest and during physical exercise.
Our bodies normally change sugars and starches into a usable form called glucose. Glucose is carried by the blood to various tissues, such as skeletal muscle. Insulin (a hormone made by the pancreas) must be present for glucose to enter skeletal muscle. Once glucose enters the muscle cell, it can be broken down and used for energy or stored for later use.
With type 2 diabetes, some insulin is produced but the body does not use it efficiently. Also known as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes prohibits glucose from entering the muscle cells. Hence, blood glucose rises to unhealthy levels. If unchecked, elevated glucose levels could lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and nerve dysfunction.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors, especially diet and exercise. People at highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes have a family history of the disease, as well as other cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Gestational Diabetes: Some women develop gestational diabetes late in pregnancy. This form of diabetes usually disappears after the birth of the baby. However, women who have had gestational diabetes have a 40 to 60 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years. Maintaining a reasonable body weight and being physically active may help prevent development of type 2 diabetes.
About 3 to 8 percent of pregnant women in the United States develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin.
Diabetes and the Pancreas
With the recent passing of Apple CEO Steve Jobs of pancreatic cancer, I would be remiss not to mention diabetes and its connection to the pancreas. In a healthy person, the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach, releases insulin to help the body store and use the sugar from the food you eat. Diabetes occurs when:
- the pancreas does not produce any insulin
- the pancreas produces very little insulin
- the body does not respond appropriately to insulin
As mentioned earlier, unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes produce insulin. However, the insulin the pancreas secretes is either not enough or the body is unable to recognize the insulin and use it properly.
Is there a relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer? According to one study, there is. A 2008 Mayo Clinic study found that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed with diabetes prior to their pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The study, published in the January 2008 issue of Gastroenterology, revealed that the onset of diabetes appears to be many months (in some cases up to two years) prior to cancer diagnosis. This information provides researchers with an important clue for earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.
Almost 37,000 people died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer, the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Health professionals struggle with treating pancreatic cancer as patients seldom exhibit symptoms until the cancer is at an advanced stage. That said, fewer than 5 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis.
Type 2 Diabetes and You
For the purpose of this article, I’ll elaborate on the most common form of diabetes – type 2 diabetes. As previously mentioned, the incidence of type 2 diabetes is on the rise, which health professionals largely attribute to the rise in obesity. According to the American Diabetes Association, the number of Americans with diabetes is expected to increase to more than 30 million by 2030. And the increase in childhood obesity may be the reason more young children are being diagnosed with the disease.
The good news is that easy-to-implement lifestyle changes can prevent and, in some cases, reverse the course of this disease. Ironically, the same methods that are used to prevent type 2 diabetes, including a healthy diet and regular exercise, can be used to control and possibly even reverse its progression.
Exercise Can Help
The latest research has put exercise at the forefront in the prevention, control and treatment of diabetes because it decreases insulin resistance. Implementing a regular exercise routine enables cells to better respond to insulin which enables proper blood glucose uptake.
In addition, exercise has profound cardiovascular benefits. Exercise decreases blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body fat. And for every 10 pounds of weight that is lost, a 20 percent improvement in insulin sensitivity occurs.
The key is to be realistic about implementing an exercise routine. Create a routine that is enjoyable. Design a routine with a long-term commitment in mind. If your routine is one that is too difficult or not enjoyable, it is virtually impossible to make a realistic long-term commitment. Remember, if you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you need to look at exercise in a whole new paradigm. All of a sudden, exercise becomes a natural health solution. Similar to altering your diet, exercise naturally lowers blood sugar, even if you don’t lose weight. Work with your health care professional on an exercise regimen that makes sense based on your current health status.
Always Start Slow!
As mentioned earlier, you should always design an exercise routine with a long-term commitment in mind. That means it must be enjoyable and manageable. Studies have revealed successful exercise strategies for type 2 diabetes. One of the more popular routines is using a pedometer and establishing a goal of taking 10,000 steps daily. A weekly goal should be 30 – 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity five times a week. However, initially, if exercise is unrealistic, alter your diet as a first step. Then do short (five-to 10-minute) walks before increasing your physical activity. Again, you need to determine what works best for you.
Do not be discouraged if you have a negative experience with initial workouts, especially if you are overweight. If you are obese or have another condition that affects your mobility (joint diseases), you may even need a customized exercise program. One motivating factor is that exercise may reduce your need for blood-sugar-lowering drugs.
Be sure to remember that when you exercise, your muscles become more sensitive to insulin and absorb more glucose from the blood. However, like many characteristics of type 2 diabetes, your body’s response is often unique. In fact, exercise may also boost blood sugar. At first, test your blood sugar before, after, and even during exercise to see how your body responds.
Supplements for Blood Sugar
Since type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors, such as diet, evaluating appropriate foods to eat is critical. However, in this day and age of processed foods, what are we REALLY putting into our bodies? That said, dietary supplements play a huge role in addressing a wide range of health challenges, including type 2 diabetes. The following 4 nutrients have shown efficacy in clinical settings in helping the fight against type 2 diabetes:
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): A powerful antioxidant that protects cells from harmful free radicals. Studies show that ALA may improve diabetic neuropathy, glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. ALA also has the potential to lower blood sugar. Therefore, consult your healthcare professional so that pharmaceuticals can be adjusted.
Chromium: An essential trace mineral that plays an important role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Chromium may also help body cells properly respond to insulin. In fact, studies have found low levels of chromium in people with diabetes. There are many promising studies suggesting chromium supplementation may be effective, but they are far from conclusive.
CoQ10 (Ubiquinol): CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (anti-aging, antioxidant) as well as specific health applications (cardiovascular, diabetes, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.
CoQ10 has been shown to impact cholesterol levels, help the circulatory system, influence blood sugar levels and provide support for heart health, all very important for people suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Co-Q10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of Co-Q10 because of the significant demands made upon it.
Aging reduces access to Co-Q10. Although Co-Q10 can be obtained from the diet, as well as synthesized in small amounts, these decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate Co-Q10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.
Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. Ubiquinol is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.
Magnesium: People with type 2 diabetes are often deficient in magnesium. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, adjusting magnesium levels in people with type 2 diabetes may help improve insulin response and action.
When all is said and done, realizing optimal health is all about prevention. Be proactive. Understand that type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors — especially diet and exercise. The incidence of type 2 diabetes will keep on rising, due largely to the continued rise in obesity. Additionally, the tragic passing of Steve Jobs has brought Increased awareness to pancreatic cancer. Be cognizant of the possible connection between diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Finally, don’t be one of the almost two million people in the U.S. over the age of 20 that will be diagnosed with diabetes in 2011. Be a part of reversing this ugly trend.