Be well, Marsha: 11/24/15

Of epidemic proportions

By Marsha Bonhart 
For the life of me, I don’t know how the month got this far and I didn’t address it. Especially since it is so personal in so many ways. November is American Diabetes Month. This is when even more attention is drawn to a disease that in this country affects an estimated 24 million people, adults and children. We haven’t even included the estimated 57 million who are considered at risk. Type 2 diabetes, expert Stacy Hugues says, is expected to affect every one in three newborns.

Preventing and controlling diabetes has to start with education—knowing what can cause it and creating the discipline to manage it. The probability of diabetes developing rises with obesity, sedentary lifestyles, aging, family history, ethnicity (African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders), a history of gestational diabetes and/or high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Registered nurse Debra Manzella tells us that 30 percent of American adults, that is approximately 60 million people, are overweight, meaning they are considered obese. Greater weight can mean you can be insulin resistant. That’s when your body can’t use insulin properly because the fat gets in the way. It becomes more complex if you are overweight and sedentary, which is a direct road to Type 2 diabetes.

Muscle cells handle insulin a lot better than fat cells, so when you exercise, you lower the chance of resistance to insulin, which helps lower blood sugar levels. Ethnic groups already mentioned have higher than normal rates of Type 2 diabetes, and even though having that predisposition does not guarantee you will develop the disorder, lifestyle can certainly play a role, one way or another. Then sadly, as we age, the pancreas gets old, becoming less active in how it sends insulin to help the cells that we need for energy use glucose and then generally, when cells age, they can become more resistant to insulin. Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman’s hormones from the placenta develop insulin resistance. Some of these same women develop Type 2 diabetes later in life and their babies can be at risk later as well. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two major factors in developing metabolic syndrome, which is a group of disorders that can indicate risks for diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease.

In an interview with, Christian Frasier revealed he was diagnosed with diabetes 14 years ago. “When I first was diagnosed with diabetes, I felt overwhelmed because I thought about having to give up everything I like to eat, but after learning diabetes education, I realized I didn’t have to give up everything, I can still eat what I like, just in moderation.”

Frasier said his diagnosis has actually helped him become more disciplined. Each morning, he checks his blood sugar before eating breakfast and monitors his meal to make sure he is within his range of eating the proper amount of carbohydrates. Then, he makes exercise a part of his day. He says no one should be afraid to exercise and it is critical in how he manages his diabetes. Admitting he is not an Olympian, he says simply walking helps control his blood sugar. You don’t have to be a professional to move your body and, as some diabetes educators say, “wake up your pancreas.” Biking, swimming and low impact aerobics are also god examples of exercise for blood sugar control.  It’s also a good idea to include resistance exercise, like Pilates, free weights or weight machines like dumbbells. Resistance exercises burn calories, improve muscle mass and rev up metabolism.

Here is what recommends to get your exercise: don’t think of it as drudgery—make it fun. It can be a part of your daily lifestyle by scheduling it into your regular activities. If you can pencil your appointments or dates, pencil in exercise as well. Thirty minutes a day, at least three times a week. You don’t have to hang out at a gym for hours. Work out with a friend, create a high energy music playlist and just dance.

For meal planning, it is recommended that you create a plate that has one-half non-starchy vegetables (salad with spinach, peppers, tomatoes), one-quarter lean protein (white meat chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, lean beef) and one-quarter good quality carbs (beans, sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, barley). Avoid sweetened beverages and cut sugary drinks, sugary jams, jellies, syrup and “extra” on sandwiches. When you order a salad, ask for sauce and dressing on the side and skip the mayo and cheese. Try whole grain mustard, hummus or hot sauce and choose your food as baked, broiled or steamed. Plus, after a meal, get away from the kitchen to avoid mindless eating—we all do it.

After 14 years managing his diabetes, Frasier says, “Now, I am in control. If I want to eat certain things, I have to realize I can’t eat a piece of pie and a piece of cake at the same time, but I can have a small piece of cake.”

Like most people who are diagnosed with diabetes later in life, Frasier said he had great difficulty making change happen. “I went through a lot of struggles,” he said. “I just said, ‘I have to make the changes’ and the last major change I made was giving up alcohol. Four months later, I got another hemoglobin A1C that came in at a desired level. My diabetes educator was happy, I was happy.”

The A1C test that Frasier describes measures the amount of combined red blood cells and glucose. Because red blood cells live for approximately three months, the A1C allows doctors to determine how much sugar has been in the body for those three months. It gives a doctor a more panoramic view of how you are managing your diabetes and is critical for a diabetes patient.

“Now, I feel like I am in control.” That mantra is the best diabetics like Frasier can have and a great way to create more awareness about the disorder not just during November, but with a consistent, year long lifestyle.

Be well,


For local diabetes information, please call 937.220.6611 or visit


Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at

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