Raising awareness to stop diabetes

By Raven Hearton
On November 2, 2011

Imagine having to give yourself a shot several times and taking multiple medications so you don't get sick. Imagine having to prick your finger every day to test your blood sugar levels and constantly watch what you eat.

Diabetes has taken more than just candy and cake from people; it has also taken lives.

This November is American Diabetes Month, a time to recognize what this disease is doing to the lives of millions and what can be done to stop it.

The month started in 1948 and was at first called National Diabetes Week, later evolving into American Diabetes Month.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), nearly 26 million children and adults in America are living with diabetes and another 79 million are at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Statistics show that every 17 seconds, someone is diagnosed with diabetes.

Diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined and recent estimates project as many as one in three American adults will have diabetes in 2050 unless more people take steps to prevent it.

Ashley Lanyon, junior early childhood education major of Bald Knob, said that she is at high risk for diabetes with several of her family members living with the disease.

"Most of my family on my mom's side has diabetes. My dad was adopted, so we don't know about his side, but I figure I'll end up with diabetes in my lifetime," Lanyon said.

According to the ADA, in most cases of Type 1 diabetes, people need to inherit risk factors from both parents.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin.

Katie Blalack, a sophomore nursing major of Highland, found out she had diabetes a little over two years ago and was shocked because no one in her family had it.

"I can still remember the first time I realized I had something wrong. I was at cheerleading camp in tenth grade and my blood sugar began to drop," Blalack said. "I broke out into a cold sweat, I was shaking and I couldn't concentrate on anything. My brain felt foggy. I was literally terrified because we did not have any snacks with us."

"At the time, I just thought this feeling was hunger and I thought everyone felt this way when they got hungry," Blalack explained.

"Over the next year and half, I continued to have these episodes and would nearly pass out. Other times I would get horrible headaches. My mom took me to have a glucose tolerance test," she said. "They gave me a sugary drink and tested my blood sugar every 30 minutes for four hours. Within a couple hours of drinking their sugary concoction, my blood sugar was 300 and I had a horrible headache like I had experienced almost every day for the past few months. I was sent straight to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock where I was diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes."

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to family history than Type 1, although it can also depend on environmental factors.

In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin, which is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy.

Lifestyle choices also influence the development of Type 2 diabetes, with obesity being a huge component. Obesity tends to run in families, and families tend to have similar eating and exercise habits.

With obesity being such a huge factor for those who develop diabetes, it's important for people at high risk to know what eating and lifestyle choices may help lessen the risk.

"I try to choose a healthier option for sweets, but it doesn't happen very often. My grandparents have to be real careful about what they eat and watch it," Lanyon, whose grandparents take insulin, said. "My grandpa's favorite thing is circus peanuts, which are pure sugar, and he can't have them.

The idea that you can't have sweets if you're a diabetic has been a long-running myth. According to the ADA, if eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes.

"My blood sugars run even better on days when I'm active or work out so I try to make going to the gym a part of my daily routine. I do have to remember to keep my glucometer (blood sugar checker), juice and a protein packed snack with me at all times just in case my blood sugar does drop," Blalack said.

ASU's own Alpha Gamma Delta sorority is involved in philanthropic work concerning juvenile diabetes and is working to raise money for diabetes research through various events.

Savanah Stewart, a senior chemistry pre-dental major of Monette, has Type 1 diabetes and is a member of Alpha Gam. She said she was excited to participate in a cause with all of her sorority sisters.

"For the last three years, I have been a member of Alpha Gam, whose philanthropy is The Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation. The foundation supports the research of Juvenile or Type 1 diabetes." Stewart said. "As a chapter, we host events and raise money for our philanthropy. Events that we have hosted include stAte Idol and a local golf tournament. Through Alpha Gam, I have gotten involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)."

American Diabetes Month is a time to become aware of a disease that has captured the lives of millions and has put even more at risk, and every day that number is growing.

"If anything, I just hope that people can understand the great number of people that are faced with this disease and the challenges they face every day," Blalack said. "Although there is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, individuals can maintain a healthy diet and stay active to keep from acquiring Type 2 diabetes. "

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