November marks Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to reflect on a variation of pancreatic disorders that greatly affect our world. Around 422 million adults are living with some form of diabetes, and the number is growing. Every year, 40,000 children and adults are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes alone. With occurrences becoming more prevalent, we must all increase our awareness of the disease.
Photo by T1International
Know the Facts
Understanding diabetes, and debunking myths, are among the most important things we can do this month.
Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
There are different types of diabetes—type 1 and 2 are so different in fact, that many argue the conditions should have completely different names. Both are to be taken seriously, but the intertwining of references can pose dangerous situations for those who deal with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can occur as a result of many things, not just diet or lifestyle. Ultimately, the body doesn’t make as much life essential insulin as it needs to convert sugar into energy, or the body doesn’t respond to the insulin it does make, resulting in high blood sugar levels.
Type 1 diabetes is as different as night and day, because it’s an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks the insulin making cells in the pancreas, rendering a person completely dependent on insulin injections, which can be equally comparable to life necessities such as water or air. It’s a tight rope walk managing the disease—too little insulin leads to dangerous high blood sugar numbers, and too much to extreme low blood sugar numbers, both of which can be fatal.
A few interesting notes....
- There is no current cure for type 1 diabetes.
- Insulin is essential for survival because it brings consumed sugar or carbs (which are eventually broken down into sugar), or glucose made from the liver, into the cells for energy. We all would die without insulin, so it’s not as simple as “quitting sugar” for diabetics.
- Diabetes dates back as far as 1500 BC, when mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus.
- Treatment for diabetes, before the discovery of insulin, was often a starvation diet. The diagnosed were considered terminally ill, and rarely lived over a few months.
- Insulin literally brought ill patients back to life upon its discovery in the 1920s.
- Although cheap to make, insulin is unjustly a very expensive drug, ranging up to thousands of dollars for a month's supply. Patient’s lives are greatly altered by this, and many have died.
- Sometimes it’s okay for a diabetic to have a cupcake—insulin has to be injected to convert the food to energy, just like a normal functioning body does after eating something.
- Diabetes can lead to depression, making management more difficult.
- Gestational diabetes is a third type which occurs during pregnancy and will likely go away.
- Common symptoms of diabetes include headaches, thirst, exhaustion, irritability, nausea and frequent urination.
- It’s a great idea for all households to keep a glucose monitor on hand for intermittent testing—they can be bought over the counter at any pharmacy.
Photo by T1International
What We Can Do in the Community
Diabetes, in general, affects one out of three Americans, so it’s likely most people are impacted in one way or another. There are things we can do to make this disease a little easier for those who have to endure it.
Take time to understand the disease, or any condition for that matter. Knowing that people understand is therapeutic and encouraging. If you own a restaurant, consider offering special alternatives for those with diabetes or other needs. Eating out is fun, but can be depressing when restricted in any way. Perhaps offer an almond flour biscuit in place of carb rich, gluten-based ones. Substitute herb steamed veggies for rice or pasta— provide hummus and carrots for those who can’t indulge in pre-meal chips and salsa. Having reasonable available options can make all the difference in the world for someone.
Encourage your school system to implement awareness days—this could help kids feel less alone while at school, while also laying a foundation of compassion for our youth.
Hold a fundraiser for a charity benefiting those with the disease, or someone specific in your town who may need a little help.
Photo by Karyn Wofford
Charities Doing Good
T1International is a UK based, type 1 diabetic operated organization helping those all over the world stand up for their rights, and access the things they need to live with disease. You can sign the access charter online, which details the things diabetics should never have to worry about—by signing in agreeance, you’re giving the movement strength, ultimately changing lives.
PFAM is not a directly diabetes related organization, but has made strides in helping with insulin affordability movements. They believe “access to essential medicines is a moral imperative and a fully-realized human right.” I-MAK and Patients for Affordable Drugs work toward the same worthy cause.
Contributing to, or just spreading the word about, any of these organizations allows them to further their world changing work.
There are many ways we can make a difference this Diabetes Awareness Month. As a type 1 myself, I can say at times it feels like no one in the world understands. But if we all took the time to extend our compassion not only to those with diabetes, and not only during November, we’d find our world to be an even more beautiful place.