Be well, Marsha: 09/15

Costly, quiet disease

By Marsha Bonhart

When you are active without any weight issues, you might think gnawing hunger and fatigue are connected to a healthy appetite and a busy, somewhat athletic lifestyle. Suddenly, nothing seemed to satisfy what seemed to be the constant buzz in my gut, even my strong urge to eat a lot of sugar—Pay Day, Snickers, Reese’s, Three Musketeers. The candy bars gave me a lot of empty, worthless calories, so I was still hungry and tired. Every day after work, I would fall asleep sitting on the family room sofa. Exhausted.
The reporter in me thought I needed to slow down at the gym and get better, organized sleep, but I couldn’t explain the uncharacteristic grumpiness, consistent hunger and harsh craving for sugar. My restless complaints found their way to the ears of my primary care physician and then thorough lab work, including an oral glucose tolerance test, let him and me know what he suspected—I was on my way to becoming a Type 2 diabetic.
Pre-diabetes, borderline Type 2, was the official diagnosis, the nurse said. She also told me I was fortunate because I was not “full blown” and had the opportunity to really get a handle on it and not become medication or insulin dependent or develop complications.
Here is what I know about Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disorder, diabetes mellitus, costing the American economy billions of dollars in annual medical expenses. Its patients are typically diagnosed after age 40, although that information has been shifting lately to include a younger population.
Like millions of other diabetic Americans, my body does not properly use insulin. That hormone helps glucose, or the body’s naturally produced blood sugar, get used for energy. But this disorder means sugar does not build in the cells, instead, it stays in the blood and creates problems. My pancreas, which produces some insulin on its own, will slow down and probably won’t be able to make enough of the hormone to give my body what it needs for optimum health. That’s how complications begin—nerve and blood vessel damage, kidney problems, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure. If not monitored or addressed, all are deadly.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, estimates 2 in 5 Americans are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. As an African American, my likelihood in contracting the disorder is nearly twice high. Similarly, Hispanics are also disproportionately affected. The CDC reports the two ethnic groups have a lifetime diabetes risk of more than 50 percent, compared to the general population of 40 percent. “We weren’t necessarily surprised that it increased, but we didn’t expect it to increase this much,” says Edward Gregg, chief of the CDC’s epidemiology and statistics branch of Diabetes Translation. “Forty percent is humbling.”
Family history plays a big role in the development of Type 2, as does obesity, which can include family eating and exercise habits. That’s where my diagnosis becomes confusing. Neither parent was diabetic, my sister was not diagnosed until she was in her late 60s and much of that is because of her weight and lack of exercise. I have not ever been overweight or inactive. But I have read scientists say there is a relationship between the disorder’s development and lack of or too little sleep. Of that connection, I am guilty.
Consistent sleep is food and rest for the body. It’s a chance for the brain to reconnect and send the proper signals to the right organs. Some of the sleep problems found among diabetics include waking during the night because of thirst, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea—which causes fatty deposits around the back of the throat and low blood sugar which can awaken you because of the sweaty, shaky feeling those symptoms bring. Even being severely sleep deprived as in my case, is proven to lead to pre-diabetes.
WebMD quotes Dr. Mark Mahowald as saying the body’s reaction to sleep loss resembles insulin resistance—which is a precursor to diabetes. Mahowald is the director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center.
For years—blame it on menopause or job related anxiety—I rarely slept more than three hours each night. I learned to function on autopilot, barely escaping falling asleep at my computer or at traffic lights. I ate without pattern, at all hours. After only a handful of sleeping hours, I was awake for the rest of the night. Sometimes because I was so tired, I would skip meals, which probably drove my pancreas crazy, not knowing when or if I would ingest the proper daily load of glucose to fuel my body’s cells.
My doctor’s aggressive approach to my diagnosis has given me a new attitude about my health. Until I attended prescribed diabetes education classes, I had no idea so many food items contained such high levels of carbs and sugar. I have become a consistent observer of boxed, bottled, bagged and carton labels. That means carefully watching the 60 carbs I eat at every meal (because of my high metabolism rate, I am allowed more than the recommended 45 carb count for women), eating small, protein-filled snacks during the day and one before bed. I have changed my diet from white potatoes to yams, white rice and pasta to brown. My greatest challenge is getting enough protein and hydration. I work hard to get in my regimen at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise (wakes up the sluggish pancreas), 3 times each week and daily blood sugar checks make sure my levels stay within healthy guidelines. So far, after four years beyond diagnosis, I am still not taking any diabetes medication.
Here are some symptoms of Type 2 diabetes: Fatigue, consistent hunger, intense thirst, slow healing wounds, rapid, unexplained weight loss.
Using a blood glucose meter, it is the goal of all diabetics to self-monitor and maintain consistent, blood sugar levels. The readings give you an idea of how the combination of food, physical activity and medicine is working. Keeping those numbers under control is work, but the objective is attainable.
Be well,

For more information, please visit

Marsha Bonhart is a veteran television news anchor and health reporter who feels it is her mission to help you stay healthy. She says she battles her seriously addicted craving for salty potato chips. Reach her at

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