Tuesday, February 9, 2010

fighting diabetes

We watched Oprah's show with Dr. Oz on fighting diabetes. 

Our doctor goes by the American Diabetes Assn. definition that a blood sugar reading of 100 or more is prediabetes, a condition where one is wise to start eating right and exercising right.  A reading of 126 or more means the actual disease.  Heart attacks, blindness, blocked circulation leading to amputations of toes or legs are all possible outcomes of diabetes, along with other nasty results I don't know about yet.

The business of helping people get to the point of working on the problem in less than one hour is an interesting matter of education, advertising, and psychology.  Of course, the emerging worst disease nationally is likely to be difficult to handle, no matter what, but it is certainly important to be aware of the problem.

I think it was in one of the Mayo Clinic books on diabetes that I read it is a disease of too many calories, not just of sugar.  That has been a helpful concept to me since it helps to explain some of the warnings and strategies that otherwise are obscure.  Dr. Oz, like my own physician, emphasized the special role of belly fat in blocking the normal function of insulin and blood chemistry.  So, you can see that fried chicken or anything breaded and fried with plenty of calories helps overload the body with more calories than it can burn.  That is the situation where the extra energy intake is stored, often in the belly fat but also in the "love handles", back of the arms, thighs, face, etc.

As a high school and college wrestler, I had good opportunities to learn the irritating truth that all the satisfying foods have lots of calories in them.  A chicken breast or a piece of cake with icing or a bowl of pasta with meat sauce might easily contain more calories that my aging body can burn without damage in half a day or more.

Another piece of the diabetes puzzle is digestion speed, also called "glycemic index".  The South Beach Diet makes clear that beer and bananas as well as the famous whites of white flour (all those lovely rolls, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts and Danish), white rice, and table sugar are very rapidly digested so their sugar content and calories can be dumped into the blood stream quickly, often overwhelming the insulin conveyor and leaving the excess circulating in the body.  A little fat like butter or oil can slow the process down a bit but they are the highest calorie substances of all, the fats.

I am building up belly fat as is just about everyone I know.  I often hear that our modern life, with no wood to split for heat and with cars to transport me instead of walking along with being able financially to afford steaks and tiramisu as often as I want assist me in gaining weight.  But human psychology and body wiring and evolution and social procedures such as feasts and holiday dinners also combine to make it difficult to burn as much as I take in, even if I were still 22, which I am not.

It is actually a pleasure to learn about what can be done and I find several sorts of satisfaction in moderate exercise.  Restraint in eating and drinking also helps but maybe the disease will get me in the long run.  I was first warned by my doctor about 4 or 5 years ago with a blood sugar reading of 113 and today it was 111 so things are probably not out of hand yet.

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