Early understanding of diabetes risk could help in better disease management

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With diabetes increasing at an alarming rate in the United States, Diabetes Alert Day® is meant to be a one-day "wake-up call" to the seriousness of diabetes and the importance of understanding your risk. The sooner you know your risk, the sooner you can take steps to prevent or even learn to manage the disease. Just ask 35 year old Crystal Gonzalez who says she knew something wasn't quite right when she felt thirsty all the time. 

"I began to feel like my body was the Sahara Desert," explains the busy single mom whose own mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 54 after suffering from excessive thirst, a sign of high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.

"I know there is a genetic link to diabetes, so I was worried," says Crystal who went to see her primary care physician who determined that her blood sugar level was over 500 mg/dL, a reading that is considered to be dangerously high. Her hemoglobin A1C, a blood test that measures the average blood sugar levels over 3 months, was 11.5%, and a normal A1C is 5.7% or below. Crystal's suspicion was correct. She had developed Type 2 diabetes, and was told she would have to take action to turn around her metabolic health.

Crystal is one of more than 1.4 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes every year. Many experts agree, type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in this country, with consequences that can include heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputations, and more.

Chronic levels of high blood sugar from eating certain foods can alter your body's ability to use insulin properly, leading to type 2 diabetes.

In Crystal's case, she says she grew up enjoying the many delicious dishes of her Puerto Rican heritage, that include a lot of rice, potatoes and other starches, that are high in carbohydrates, which the body converts to sugar.

We have a vibrant and delicious food culture but sometimes it means too many starches and an abundance of foods."

Crystal Gonzalez

She made an appointment with an endocrinologist and began to consider other ways to address her diabetes. By chance, her place of worship, the Agape Christian Ministry in Paterson, NJ, hosted a women's conference in May which featured staff and information from The MOLLY Diabetes Education and Management Center for Adults and Children at Hackensack University Medical Center.

"At that point I was very upset and wasn't sure what to do to manage my diabetes," said Crystal. "I took one of the MOLLY Center speaker's cards and planned to make an appointment, and about 20 days later, on May 30 I had my first appointment," she says.

"Shortly before I went to the MOLLY Center, I had been to a party with a buffet dinner. Everything seemed like it was starches, with so many pastas to choose from," said Crystal. "I felt like I could not eat anything and was almost in tears. I felt like food was the enemy. Being introduced to the MOLLY Center really came at the right time for me and my health.

The MOLLY Center offers an unparalleled approach to treating and managing diabetes, including a wide range of support services and the most up-to-date treatments to live a healthy and satisfying life. The team is made up of HUMC endocrinologists, licensed clinical social workers and certified medical assistants as well as registered nurses and registered dietitians who are certified diabetes care and education specialists.

"Over time I learned so much from the dietitians at the MOLLY Center. They taught me that diabetes affects the whole body and that its' a lot more than just eating too much sugar. I learned how to read food labels and the information in the packaging," said Crystal. "They taught me food is not the enemy but I had the ability to critically assess what I was going to eat, that I needed to eat more protein and vegetables, to drink more water, and yes, while I had to cut down on carbs and sugar-laden foods, I did not need to cut out anything completely. It's all about moderation."

She also learned that Type 2 diabetes is manageable with the right course of action, and that Type 1 has a small genetic component. "I do have antibodies for type 1 diabetes, but my condition is very sensitive to diet and exercise, which gives me hope," she says, "for both me and my daughter. "I learned that Type 2 is not necessarily passed down through the blood, but through the fork," she joked.

Crystal says she's considerably changed her diet, and although she once in a while can eat a slice of her favorite food, pizza, she knows she just can't do it every day. She said she also learned how to estimate the carbohydrates in food. For example, a half a cup of rice has about 15 grams of carbohydrate, which is acceptable for one serving. The food itself is not bad, she said, but the portion control is so important. 

In addition to managing her diet, she has learned some behavioral techniques to reduce calories and weight. One is eating more slowly and focusing on the food. "When we have meals now in my family we sit at the table and talk, with no other activity. We focus on the food, eat slowly and really enjoy it. It makes a difference to first appreciate the food and the moment and also to eat more deliberately and less."

She also tries to walk for at least a half hour or more after dinner, which not only helps her body and metabolism, but also is a delight for her dog, Taco.

So, what are the results of Crystal's determination to manage her Type 2 diabetes? Her A1C level is down from 11.5 % to 6.5 %. She has shed 32 pounds, and her weight loss resulted in losing fat, but not muscle weight.

"I still have a lot of work to do, and I want to lose another 35 pounds and continue to bring the blood sugar marker numbers down," says Crystal, "but I really feel like I turned around the direction of my diabetes, and I could not have done it without the help of the MOLLY Center." 

This Diabetes Alert Day, get to know your risk by clicking here to take a 60-Second Risk Assessment. 


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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