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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

11 November 2008

National Diabetes Month

November is National Diabetes Month. As a long-time writer on diabetes as well as the granddaughter of two people who died from complications of diabetes, I'd like to make you aware of the extent of the problem and what you can do to help yourself and your family.

The problem

Because of video games, fast food, jobs that use computers, larger servings at restaurants, and many, many other factors, Americans today are less active and weigh more than ever before.

Diabetes rates are shooting up as a result, particularly in the South. In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rate of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes has nearly doubled in the past ten years. As a result, nearly 24,000,000 Americans now have diabetes. When I first started writing about diabetes, the number was 15,000,000.

Why you should care

You want to avoid getting diabetes if possible because it can lead to or contribute to a host of ills—eye disease, blindness, nerve disease, kidney disease, foot ulcers, amputation, digestive diseases, gum disease and other infections, tooth loss, heart attack, stroke, and depression—as well as disability and even death.

Risk factors

Type 2 diabetes (which is the kind 90% of people with diabetes have) usually comes about when genetic predisposition meets a diabetes-friendly environment.

Thus, your risk of diabetes is higher if it runs in your family or if you belong to an ethnic group particularly prone to getting diabetes. (In the United States, high-risk groups include blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians.)

Genetic predisposition alone is usually not enough to cause diabetes. It needs the right environment to manifest itself. Possible risk factors for type 2 diabetes include excess weight; excess fat around the stomach; a high-calorie diet; being 45 or older; physical inactivity; high blood pressure; high cholesterol levels; heavy alcohol use; lower income; less education; lower social class; living in an urban area; having had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds; and having had temporary diabetes during a pregnancy.

You can calculate your personal risk of diabetes with an interactive risk calculator provided by the American Diabetes Association at

Save your family, save yourself

You cannot change some risk factors. Still, even if you are at high risk, you can lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes and at the same time become healthier.

Lose weight if you are overweight. Any weight you lose will help, even if you are still overweight. To find out whether you or your children are overweight, use the calculators at

Eat a more healthful diet. To find out what the government currently considers a healthful diet, check out the 2005 Dietary Guidelines at

Burn more calories. A formal exercise program is not the only way to achieve this. Many household, gardening, and lawn chores are calorie burners. So are some fun activities such as sex, dancing, playing tennis, playing certain musical instruments, walking your dog, playing with your children, and walking around a shopping mall. The government’s 2008 report on physical fitness (with hints for increasing yours) can be found at

Know the symptoms. The earlier diabetes is caught, the earlier you can start taking steps to control it and so lessen your chances of complications. Not everyone who gets type 2 diabetes has symptoms. However, when they do, they have some of the following:
•increased thirst
•weight loss
•blurred vision
•frequent urination
•increased hunger
•sores that do not heal


Lisa said...

My father and brother had/have Type 1 diabetes, as did my former husband and his mother and I have a slew of relatives and in-laws with Type II.

After living with it for a long time, it became clear to me that people who are unfamiliar with diabetes completely underestimate how serious this disease is and how much it impacts virtually every major organ in a diabetic's body. I think many diabetics also tend to live with a certain amount of denial about their disease and don't monitor and control it as much as they should.

It's definitely something that people can live a normal life with, but people need to monitor it carefully and do the right things. I hope I'm not making it sound too scary, but my observation has consistently been that people don't seem to recognize how debilitating and even fatal it can be.

Sorry. I feel strongly about this, so thanks again for posting about it.

virtualjourney said...

Shauna, thanks - I'm going to keep a copy of this on file. One of the things I noticed about following a phyto-estrogen diet was that it appeared to be diabetic friendly... as long as you don't eat too many high sugar fruits such as grapes etc.

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, thanks for sharing your experiences. Even some doctors downplay the seriousness of diabetes, telling patients they have "a touch of sugar," which hardly motivates them to do all the extra work of self-care.

JULIE, thanks for visiting. Dietary guidelines have loosened a lot as research has shown several types of diets work well for people with diabetes, as long as they emphasize healthy foods low in saturated fats and simple carbs.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's definitely something to worry about considering I have many of the risk factors. I really need to focus on getting more healthy. I let too many other things intervene.

Carleen Brice said...

Thanks for this post. After getting sick this summer (not diabetes) when I didn't have any of the "warning signs," I realize that it's important to watch our diets and exercise even when we think we're healthy.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES and CARLEEN, even though I have written about diabetes and health for 16 years and am familiar with all the government and association guidelines, I still fall short in taking good care of myself. My "Katrina 15" are still hanging around, and I haven't gotten back into exercising since we moved here. The modern world makes living a healthful life hard.

Virginia Lady said...

Excellent post, Shauna. When I was hitting the 200 pound mark several years ago, I realized I couldn't ignore it anymore, and I couldn't blame it on 'baby weight'. I joined a gym, I changed my eating habits, and I lost over 30 pounds. I still have more to lose, but as I get older it gets harder, so I continue to plod along.

My maternal grandmother had diabetes, and I know several people with it as well. I have no desire to join those ranks. And I don't want my family to either.

I've even gotten my dad and a brother to change their eating habits somewhat. It's small, but it's something.

WH said...

I was very ignorant of how diabetes affects the elderly. In 1991, my 90 year old father's nursing home nicked his toe while clipping his nails. He had diabetes. One week later, he had gangrene and his leg was subsequently amputated, which ultimately led to his death. People need to have this kind of info. Very good post.

Rick said...

From 15,000,000 to 24,000,000 is a staggering increase. My brother and uncle have diabetes and several of my friends do as well. Your post makes me think.

Have you read about something called the "Simply Raw" diet that reportedly has some success reversing Type II diabetes? If so, is there any possibility that it can be helpful.

Keep up the good work. This is important stuff.

Rae Ann Parker said...

The increase in Americans with diabetes is amazing. I worked with diabetes patients in the past and I know awareness of the early warning signs is very important. Thanks for blogging about this.

Lana Gramlich said...

My dad (adopted, not biological,) had diabetes, so we had 1st-hand experience with the morning shots & whatnot. Down with refined sugars!

Leon said...

Thank you for this post SHAUNA. I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes 18 years ago; I went into the doctors office and asked him to run the tests that confirmed what I already knew. I had all the classic symptoms. I have maintained fairly tight control through diet, exercise and, for the past 4.5 years, insulin.

But I have a pet peeve. I often see surveys directed at diabetes "sufferers." I often get the question, "How long have you suffered from diabetes?" I always respond that I do not "suffer" from diabetes, I "live with it."

Obviously, many diabetics do suffer. But most of us learn to live with it and continue to lead active, productive lives. I may have slowed down as I aged but it is not because of my diabetes.

I hope you don't mind that I added my 2 cents worth here. :~D

Shauna Roberts said...

VIRGINIA LADY, every bit counts. Each pound one loses reduces the force on the knees by four pounds, so those 30 pounds not only reduced your diabetes risk but also took a huge load off your knees.

BILLY, I'm so sorry about your father. A much-too-common story.

RICK, I have not read about the Simply Raw diet, but it sounds like one that would be naturally low in fat and calories (unless it includes raw meat). Type 2 diabetes is considered a progressive disease—one that gradually worsens over time no matter how good of care you take of yourself. However, eating a good diet can at least slow the progression; some people who were greatly overweight and then lost a lot of weight have had their diabetes go into long-term remission.

RAE ANN, thank you.

LANA, I'd second your "Down with refined sugars!" except it would be hypocritical because I'm munching chocolate at the moment.

LEON, I'm glad you've been doing so well and were diagnosed early. And I'm glad, too, that you added your two cents. The reason some people don't take care of their diabetes is that they've seen their older relatives with diabetes go downhill and lose limbs and die, and they believe that there's nothing that really helps diabetes. You're an inspiration that living with diabetes doesn't have to be like that, particularly with so much more known about it nowadays.

At the magazines I've worked for, "sufferers" and "diabetics" were verboten words . . . "sufferers" for the very reason you cite, and "diabetics" because it seems to define the people as the disease or suggest that diabetes is the most important aspect of diabetes.

I don't particularly agree with not using "diabetic" to refer to a person. As an arthritic, I have to take my joints and how swollen or painful they are into account in almost every decision I make every day, and the doctor and drugstore visits and keeping track of prescriptions takes up a lot of time. Arthritis does define me, and the more I keep that in mind, ironically, the less pain and disability I'll have. I would guess the same constant awareness would be useful for people with diabetes too.

Steve Malley said...

They've started checking me for diabetes now, thanks to my mom's lifestyle choices. And of course, living in a country without Universal Healthcare, she often has to choose between medication and food. Rrrr...