The Other Life Changing Diabetes

| October 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Dove Braunstein

Carson Manjarrez has done an incredible job of adjusting to a life with Type 1 Diabetes.

Recently I watched the documentary “What the Health” on Netflix. Being a self-proclaimed health nut (who, admittedly, doesn’t always practice what she preaches), I enjoyed the film and its general message. Processed food is killing us; eat less meat and dairy, and way, way more plants. Amen. But I had one huge complaint: Diabetes was mentioned several times in the film— and all the unhealthy habits that cause it, along with heart disease and cancer. They talked about what we as a society are doing to get diabetes, what we should and shouldn’t be eating to avoid it; how our lifestyle choices increase our chances of developing diabetes, and how it will kill us if we don’t change our ways; what we can do it prevent it, reverse it, even get rid of it, with better food choices and exercise.

All of these things are true… if you’re talking about Type 2 diabetes, which they were— exclusively— in the film. Unfortunately, they simply stated that all of these facts were true of “diabetes” in general, rather than clarifying that they are true only of Type 2 diabetes. This oversight is a huge blow to America’s awareness of the other, less common kind of diabetes, Type 1.

Otherwise known as juvenile diabetes, due to the fact that it is usually diagnosed in childhood, Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is close to my heart. My son was diagnosed last year at the age of nine. Since that day I have read everything I can get my hands on to learn about this devastating and complicated disease. Though I can’t reach everyone who watched “What the Health,” I can at least share with our community what T1D is, how it affects those who suffer from it, and the significant differences between it and Type 2 diabetes.

First off, T1D is an auto-immune disorder. That means that the immune system inexplicably decides that certain healthy cells in the body are foreign, and goes on the attack to destroy them. In T1D, it is the pancreas against which the immune system goes to war; more specifically, the islet cells in the pancreas, which make insulin. Insulin is the hormone that a healthy pancreas makes which enables the body to convert the sugar from carbohydrates in the food we eat into energy. Without insulin, the body cannot process these sugars, which are found in almost every food— yes, healthy foods; fruit, rice, milk, grains, beans and even certain veggies. Without insulin, the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels, risking extreme high or extreme low blood sugar, both of which can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. Therefore, someone with T1D, whose pancreas no longer produces insulin, must inject the liquid, via syringes or a pump, into their body on a daily basis (and throughout the day) in order to keep their blood sugar stable.

My now 10-year-old tests his blood sugar between 6-12 times a day by pricking a fingertip and testing the drop of blood with a glucometer. He has to measure the number of carbohydrates that he eats— every morsel of food that goes into his mouth must be accounted for— and compensate for those carbohydrates with insulin to try and keep his blood sugar within a certain range. He gets two shots every single day, one before breakfast and one before dinner. Never again can he just grab a snack without thinking about it. He must count the carbs, measure it, dose for it.

I’ve learned to understand, it’s a complex puzzle from which he never, ever gets a break, and on which his life literally depends. His blood sugar is also impacted by exercise; if he’s especially active, which is often, his sugar level will drop more rapidly and we need to adjust his carb consumption accordingly. He has adapted to this “new normal” with a strength and resiliency that amazes me, and I am heartbreakingly proud of him, but his life will never be the same. As of now there is no cure, and no change in diet or lifestyle will coax his pancreas into making insulin again.

Now, I’d like to make it crystal clear about what causes T1D and what someone who has it has done to contribute to their diagnosis: absolutely nothing. Someone with an autoimmune disorder is born with it in their system. It lurks in the body, sometimes for months, sometimes years, sometimes decades, waiting to manifest. Typically it is an event that stresses the body, even something as simple as a common cold, usually during childhood that makes the disease present itself.

In a Type 2 diabetic, on the other hand, the pancreas still makes insulin as in any healthy person, however the body becomes resistant to it over time, due to— you guessed it— unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and obesity, as well as genetic factors.

When people hear that my son has diabetes, they are often confused because he isn’t overweight; how a child who is so athletic and active could have a disease that (they believe) is for fat people, caused by poor food choices and/or sedentary lifestyle. “He doesn’t look diabetic” is one of the most misinformed statements a person can make.

T1D doesn’t look like anything. It is a silent, invisible disease that affects less than one percent of our population. Awareness about T1D is frustratingly low. Misconceptions about this complex disease run rampant and are one of the reasons it is so misunderstood and underfunded. I readily admit, I was completely clueless about it before our diagnosis as well, and this is why I’m determined to spread the word now.

The lack of T1D awareness in America hurts not only the T1D community but also research organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) who are working tirelessly to get to the bottom of this mysterious and complicated disease, and thereby find a cure.

This November, my son will be participating in his second OneWalk, a 5k that raises money for T1D research. He is a JDRF youth Ambassador, and has spoken publicly about the challenges of T1D and how important it is to him and other kids like him that we find a cure. He makes it clear that he is in control of the disease, it is not in control of him. He still surfs, skateboards, and does all the things he loves. It all just takes a bit more thought, planning, and a lot more responsibility.

Advances, inventions and discoveries are being made at lightning speed; it’s a much easier time to manage T1D than it was 20, even five years ago, but we still hope and pray for a cure in his lifetime.

It all begins with awareness. To learn more, please visit JDRF.org

I’d like to give credit to Keegan Kuhn, director of “What the Health,” for responding to my email expressing my concerns. He acknowledged the frustration on the part of the T1D community by not differentiating the two types of diabetes. If only they’d actually mentioned it in the film.

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Category: Featured Articles, Health & Fitness, Local News

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