Getting the Most Out of Your Remote Healthcare Visits

This content originally appeared on Integrated Diabetes Services. Republished with permission.

By Gary Scheiner MS, CDCES

A long, long time ago, before the days of coronavirus, there was a little diabetes care practice called Integrated Diabetes Services (we’ll just call it IDS for short). IDS taught people with diabetes all the wonderful things they can do to manage their diabetes. Word got out, and people who lived far from IDS’s local hamlet (better known as Philadelphia) wanted to work with IDS. Even people IN the hamlet wanted to work with IDS but were often too busy to make the trip to the office. So IDS had an idea: “Let’s offer our services via phone and the internet so that everybody who wants to work with us can work with us!” The idea took off, and IDS grew and grew.

And virtual diabetes care was born.

Today, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual healthcare has become a virtual norm. Often referred to as “telehealth” or “telemedicine,” people with diabetes are connecting with their healthcare providers for everything from medical appointments to self-management education to coaching sessions. Some consults are conducted via phone calls, while others utilize web-based video programs (like Zoom) or simple email or text messages. Regardless of the form, virtual care can be highly effective. But it can also have its limitations. Whether you’ve been receiving virtual healthcare for months or have yet to give it a try, it pays to learn how to use it effectively. Because virtual care will certainly outlive the pandemic.

What Can… and Can’t… Be Accomplished Virtually

Most diabetes care services, including medical treatment and self-management education, can be provided effectively on a remote basis. We have managed to teach our clients everything from advanced carb counting techniques to strength training routines to self-analysis of glucose monitoring data, all while helping them fine-tune their insulin program, on a 100% virtual basis.

Some clinics and private healthcare providers have gone 100% virtual since the pandemic began, while others are using a “hybrid” approach – periodic in-person appointments with virtual care in-between. Depending on the reason you’re seeking care, a hybrid approach makes a lot of sense. While virtual visits are generally more efficient and economical (and in many cases safer) than in-person appointments, there are some things that are challenging to accomplish on a remote basis. From a diabetes standpoint, this includes:

  • Checking the skin for overused injection sites
  • Learning how to use medical devices (especially for the first time)
  • Examining the thyroid gland and lymph nodes
  • Evaluating glucose data (unless you can download and transmit data to your provider)
  • Performing a professional foot exam
  • Listening to the heart rhythm and feeling peripheral pulses
  • Checking for signs of neuropathy and retinopathy
  • Measuring vital signs (unless you have equipment for doing so at home)

The Logistics

Virtual care can be provided in a variety of ways, ranging from a phone call to an email, text message or video conference. Video can add a great deal to the quality of a consultation, as it allows you and your healthcare provider to pick up on body language and other visual cues. It also permits demonstrations (such as how to estimate a 1-cup portion of food), evaluation of your techniques (such as how to insert a pump infusion set), and use of a marker board for demonstrating complex subjects (such as injection site rotation or how certain medications work).

When using video, it is important to have access to high-speed internet. A computer is almost always better than a phone for video appointments, as the screen is larger and has better resolution. If you have the ability to download your diabetes data, do so and share access with your healthcare provider a day or two prior to the appointment. It may also be helpful to share some of your “vital” signs at the time of the appointment – a thermometer, scale, and blood pressure cuff are good to have at home.

In many cases, care provided on a remote/virtual basis is covered by health insurance at the same level as an in-person appointment. This applies to public as well as private health insurance. However, some plans require your provider to perform specific functions during the consultation (such as reviewing glucose data) in order for the appointment to qualify for coverage. Best to check with your healthcare provider when scheduling the appointment to make sure the virtual service will be covered. At our practice (which is 100% private-pay), virtual and in-person services are charged at the same rates.

If security is of the utmost importance to you, virtual care may not be your best option. Although there are web-based programs and apps that meet HIPPA guidelines, there really is no way to guarantee who has access to your information at the other end. My advice is to weigh the many benefits of virtual care against the (minuscule) security risk that virtual care poses.

Optimizing the Virtual Experience

Just like in-person appointments, virtual care can be HIGHLY productive if you do a little bit of preparation.

  • Do yourself and your healthcare provider a favor and download your devices, including meters, pumps, CGMs, and any logging apps you may be using, prior to the appointment. If you don’t know how to download, ask your healthcare provider for instructions, or contact our office… we can set up a virtual consultation and show you how. If you have not downloaded your information before, don’t be intimidated. It is easier than you think. People in their 80s and 90s can do it. Oh, and look over the data yourself before the appointment so that you can have a productive discussion with your healthcare provider.
  • Be prepared with a list of your current medications, including doses and when you take them. Check before the appointment to see if you need refills on any of your medications or supplies. If you take insulin, have all the details available: basal doses (and timing), bolus/mealtime doses (and dosing formulas if you use insulin:carb ratios), correction formulas (for fixing highs/lows), and adjustments for physical activity.
  • Try to get your labwork done prior to virtual appointments. This will give your healthcare provider important information about how your current program is working.
  • To enhance the quality of the virtual meeting, do your best to cut down the background noise (TV off, pets in another room, etc…) and distractions (get someone to watch the kids). Use of a headset may be preferable to using the speakers/microphone on your phone or computer, especially if there is background noise or you have limited hearing.
  • Use a large screen/monitor so that it will be easy to see details and do screen-sharing. And use front lighting rather than rear lighting. When the lights or window are behind you, you may look more like a black shadow than your beautiful self. “Ring” lights are popular for providing front-lighting.
  • Provide some of your own vitals if possible – weight, temperature, blood pressure, current blood sugar. This is important information that your healthcare provider can use to enhance your care.
  • Prepare a list of topics/questions that you want to discuss. Ideally, write them on paper so that you can take notes during the appointment. If there is a great deal of detail covered, ask your healthcare provider to send you an appointment summary by mail or email.
  • Be in a private place that allows you to speak openly and show any body parts that might need to be examined – including your feet and injection/infusion sites.
  • Be a patient patient! Technical issues can sometimes happen. It is perfectly fine to switch to a basic phone call or reschedule for another time.
  • Courtesy. Be on-time for your virtual appointment. If you are delayed, call your healthcare provider’s office to let them know. And if you are not sure how to login or use the video conferencing system, call your provider beforehand for detailed instructions. This will help to avoid delays. Have your calendar handy so that a follow-up can be scheduled right away. Oh, one other thing: Try not to be eating during the appointment… it is distracting and a bit rude. However, treating a low blood sugar is always permissible!

If there is one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that virtual care is a win-win for just about everybody. Expect it to grow in use long after the pandemic. In-person care will never go away completely, but for treating/managing a condition like diabetes, virtual care has a lot to offer… especially if you use it wisely.

Note: Gary Scheiner is Owner and Clinical Director of Integrated Diabetes Services, a private practice specializing in advanced education and intensive glucose management for insulin users. Consultations are available in-person and worldwide via phone and internet. For more information, visit Integrated Diabetes.com, email sales@integrateddiabetes.com, or call (877) 735-3648; outside North America, call + 1-610-642-6055.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Diabetes is Ruff: Diving into the World of Diabetes Service Dogs

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Julia Kenney

When you think of tools to help you manage diabetes, you likely think of therapies and devices – but what about dogs? We spoke with Mark Ruefenacht, who trained the first diabetes service dog in the world, to learn how these special animals can support people with diabetes.

There are many reasons to love dogs. Because they are cute, because they are smart, because they are the furry best friends you didn’t know you needed, and they love you unconditionally. But did you know that some dogs can also save your life and help you manage diabetes? Just one more thing to add to the list.

In diabetes, severe cases of high or low blood sugar (hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, respectively) are dangerous and can lead to serious long and short-term health complications. Diabetes service dogs are trained to help, specifically when the owner’s blood sugar is too low or too high.

There are two kinds of diabetes service dogs, Medical Response Dogs and Diabetic Alert Dogs. Medical Response Dogs are trained to respond to the symptoms of severe low blood sugar such as fatigue, loss of consciousness, and seizure-like behavior to help notify you and others of hypoglycemic events. Medical Response Dogs can also retrieve “low” supplies such as food, drinks, or an emergency kit. Diabetic Alert Dogs, also referred to as DADs, are trained to smell the compounds that are released from someone’s body when blood sugar is high or low. Because of this, Diabetic Alert Dogs are able to alert their owners of dangerous levels of blood sugar before they become symptomatic. A variety of breeds can be trained to be diabetes service dogs, including golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, mixed-sporting breeds, and poodles.

Dog

Image source: diaTribe

Nobody knows more about these dogs than Mark Ruefenacht, founder of Dogs4Diabetics (D4D), one of the leading diabetes service dog training organizations in the world. Ruefenacht  has lived with diabetes for over 30 years and got involved with service dogs for the blind due to his family history of diabetes-related eye disease (retinopathy). After an incident of severe hypoglycemia, Ruefenacht started training Armstrong, the world’s first diabetes service dog, to recognize and respond to the scent of hypoglycemia in his sweat and breath. Through training and testing, Ruefenacht found that there might be a scent associated with hypoglycemia that is common among people with diabetes and could be taught to other dogs. Since then, he has helped train hundreds more dogs with D4D. In our interview, Ruefanacht shared his insights on the benefits of Diabetic Alert Dogs and how to know if they are right for you.

How are Diabetic Alert Dogs trained? Who are they trained for?

Diabetic Alert Dogs are typically trained for people with type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes. This is for two reasons. As Ruefenacht describes, people with type 2 diabetes who are not dependent on insulin typically do not have life-threatening low blood sugars. Because of this, Diabetic Alert Dogs are most helpful for people who are insulin-dependent. Furthermore, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs can only be given to people with a recognized disability, which could cause barriers to getting a service dog, especially for people with type 2 diabetes who are not insulin dependent. There are additional requirements and limitations for public service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so diabetes service dog organizations also train dogs in various support skills to help people with diabetes at home (and not in public). Dogs4Diabetics refers to these dogs as “Diabetes Buddy Dogs.” If you are wondering whether you could qualify for a service dog, talk to a service dog organization.

As for the training these dogs receive, the programs typically focus on scent discrimination. This means that the dogs are taught to detect smells in the air associated with blood sugar changes and to ignore smells associated with normal, safe bodily functions. Ruefenacht said, “The big myth is that dogs are smelling blood sugar. But the dogs are actually sensing the compounds that come out of the liver when the blood sugar is either dropping rapidly or is low.” Though humans can’t detect these smells, dogs likely can. Scientists are not sure what exactly the dogs identify, but research suggests that it’s ketones (for high blood sugar) and may be a natural chemical called isoprene (for low blood sugar). Ruefenacht uses low and high blood sugar breath samples to train the dogs; after about six months of intensive training, they can distinguish these scents in people.

Can diabetes service dogs reliably alert their owners to changes in glucose levels? It depends on the dog and it’s training – but research shows that diabetes service dogs can often be effective, and that quality of life and diabetes management tends to improve in owners. According to Kim Denton, who works for Dogs4Diabetics and has had type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemia unawareness for over 40 years, having a Diabetic Alert Dog “changed my life for the better by helping me keep my blood glucose in a much tighter range, which means fewer health complications and I feel much better both physically and mentally.”

How can diabetes service dogs help their owners?

Dog

Image source: diaTribe

Denton says that her dog, Troy, “has saved my life so many times by alerting me before my glucose dropped to a life-threatening level, that I can’t keep track anymore. Troy tells me long before my CGM detects a rapid drop or rise in my glucose levels, and he does it without that annoying beeping! If my sugar starts dropping while I am sleeping, Troy jumps on me to wake me up and will continue licking my face if I start to fade off.” In addition to alerting owners to early changes in blood sugar so that they can act to stabilize glucose levels, there are other skills that diabetes service dogs can learn. Here are some examples, though every organization has different training programs:

  • Alert the owner to audio signals from insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors (CGM), and other devices. This is especially helpful for people with impaired hearing, for children, and for diabetes management while sleeping.
  • Alert people nearby to help the owner in cases of severe blood sugar changes, or retrieve a cell phone.
  • Retrieve medications and other necessary supplies in an emergency.
  • Provide emotional support.

It is important to know that diabetes service dogs are an additive tool to help people manage their diabetes. A service dog should never replace CGM, self-monitoring blood glucose with fingersticks, hypoglycemia prevention methods, or healthy lifestyle efforts; a diabetes service dog can be an additional form of support for people with diabetes.

How do service dogs provide emotional support? Why is this important?

The majority of diabetes service dogs are also trained with emotional support and wellness skills. This means that in addition to helping people manage their blood sugar, these dogs can also help improve their owner’s mental and emotional wellbeing. This is especially important for people with diabetes because of the stress that often comes with long-term management of a chronic condition – learn about diabetes distress and how to reduce it here. People with diabetes are also two to three times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population, according to the CDC.

Ruefenacht is keenly aware of the relationship between diabetes and mental health, and he has worked to address this through his diabetes service dog training programs. Ruefenacht says his clients appreciate the diabetes management component of the service dog training, “but they value the companionship and emotional support more.” Like most other dogs, diabetes service dogs are companions and become part of the owner’s family. Many owners appreciate the stress-relieving experience of walking, playing, or just being with a dog, which can be incredibly helpful for people with diabetes. Denton says “Troy understands not only my need to have normal glucose levels but also my need for comfort and companionship when my diabetes gets me down.” Dogs can also be trained to cater to specific mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Could a diabetes service dog be right for me? 

Dog

Image source: diaTribe

Diabetes service dogs are a great option for some people, but not for everyone. There are several ways that people can get support in managing their diabetes, and it is important to think about what works best for you – for example, Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to sense blood sugar changes in their owners, but for many, this can be accomplished using a CGM. Diabetes service dogs can be a helpful option for people who frequently experience episodes of hypoglycemia, experience hypoglycemia unawareness, need help regulating their blood sugar at night, or need additional support. According to Taylor Johnson, who has type 1 diabetes and a Diabetic Alert Dog named Claire, “Having a service dog is the best decision I’ve ever made regarding my diabetes management. I love gadgets and tech but they are not foolproof, and Claire is the additional piece of mind I need to sleep at night.” Talk with your healthcare professional to assess your need for a diabetes service dog if it is something that you are considering – and remember, a diabetes service dog will not replace the need for careful glucose monitoring and hypoglycemia prevention efforts.

There are a few more important things to think about:

  • Cost: The process of getting and training diabetes service dogs and their owners can be expensive. There are some organizations that provide training services for free or for a reduced cost for those who qualify. Other organizations offer financial assistance or payment plans for those who qualify. For example, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that relies on charitable donations, D4D does not charge its clients for the dogs or other program services which significantly reduces the costs of owning a diabetes service dog.
  • Time: Owners also need to put a significant amount of time into training and maintaining the skills of their diabetes service dog outside of the formal training the dogs receive. This includes participation in some of the initial training of the dog, giving the dog time to acclimate to your specific needs as a person with diabetes, and follow-up training throughout the dog’s lifetime.

Want to learn more about diabetes service dogs?

  • Check out some different diabetes service dog organizations to get a sense of the application process, service dog training programs, and service dog community

Source: diabetesdaily.com

How the Keto Diet Paved the Way for a “Normal” Life

By Matt Barrie

I have type 1 diabetes since age three, and am now 37 years old. Living a ‘normal life’ has always been my number 1 goal, but how this has manifested has been different through different stages of my life. As a teenager, I hung out with friends and wanted to do all the same things as them, eat the same things as them and just be a ‘normal’ kid. I made it through, although there were several seizures and hospital visits.

My twenties had their ups and downs both with health and life events. I had weight fluctuations from quite low to an extra unhealthy 20 lbs., and my HbA1cs were also all over the map. By 26, I made some big changes and adopted a healthy, standard carb-diet lifestyle and enjoyed that sense of ‘normalcy’ that we all crave. I played soccer, ran, skied, and lifted weights.

By my late twenties, I made some big life-changing decisions, like heading back to school to change direction with my career. Through studying and supporting myself at the same time, my health began to slip slowly and steadily. By the time my degree was finished, I had put on 50+ lbs., had developed very unhealthy eating habits, and could barely make it up a flight of stairs without being out of breath.

Doctors were giving me all the warnings, my HbA1c was up in the 8s and 9s and most significantly, the diabetic retinopathy that had begun to develop in my 20s worsened and progressed into macular retinal edema. So, monthly visits to the ophthalmologist (daily, when I developed an infection from the injections I was getting that almost took my eye!) became my new normal. With fear as a driving factor and determination as the driving force, I jumped into action, although not sure where to begin.

keto diet

Moussaka made with eggplant, zucchini, cashew-béchamel, ground beef sauce and cheese. Photo credit: Matt Barrie

I started experimenting with the ketogenic diet after reading that it had proved successful for many people with diabetes, both types 1 and 2. This was around 3.5 years ago. Most of the success I read about then was regarding type 2 diabetes and reversing it with the diet.

I was very curious though how I could make this work for myself so the experimenting began. I tried cyclical, where you rotate carbs in and out, but this didn’t work. I tried semi-strict, with the infamous ‘cheat days’ which I needed at the time to preserve those foods I ‘missed’, but ultimately this didn’t work either. I tried many different iterations of the diet and for two years saw small successes – up to 20 lbs. [weight loss] here and there. It was enough to keep me going but I never saw that breakthrough success that I was truly after.

After the summer of 2019, I had taken a ‘break’ with visiting relatives and had gained back all my losses and then some. It was very discouraging, but it was the motivation I needed to make a serious change. I hit a saturation point where I knew I couldn’t keep continuing on the way I had been. I weighed in over 210 lbs., which on my 5’8″ frame felt like [an extra] 100 lbs. I committed to myself that I would be absolutely strict keto, I signed up with a trainer twice a week to stay accountable, and committed to running twice a week. I also began practicing intermittent fasting with the 16 hour/8 hour split between my fasting and eating window.

Photo credit: Matt Barrie

Within the first month, I dropped 15 lbs. and the weight and body composition began to change week by week, month by month. By the time the pandemic hit, I was well on my way to my weight loss goal and was able to stay on track. I lost 50 lbs. by April of 2020 and have been working on building lean muscle mass ever since!

My insulin needs have dropped significantly – basal by about a quarter and fast-acting by over 3/4! My HbA1c is in the low 6s and most significantly, I have reversed my macular edema and the retinopathy seems to be going into remission as well. My ophthalmologist was blown away that there was no fluid in my retina.

Photo credit: Matt Barrie

It’s hard to put into words the effect these lifestyle changes have had in my life. My energy, ability to perform, clarity of mind, spirit, and purpose are all significantly improved. Thinking and being told by convention that carbs were essential led me to high levels of insulin resistance, fat storage, yo-yo blood sugars, and unnecessary highs and lows due to over-correction. I now enjoy steady blood glucose levels during exercise, during waking hours, and overnight. I’m also enjoying much lower insulin needs and feel confident that my risk of diabetic complications is significantly decreased.

Keto Diet - Matt Barrie

Left: Sablefish (black cod) with puréed butternut squash, pan-fried Brussels and topped with red cabbage sauerkraut. Right: Grilled pork chop with seared zu Chinju, roasted carrots and cauliflower. Finished with mushroom cream sauce. Photo credit: Matt Barrie

I can’t shout from the roof loud enough that the ketogenic lifestyle can be such a powerful tool for diabetes management! I’m not saying it’s the only way, but it has certainly worked for me and changed my life. At first, you do miss the foods from a standard carbohydrate diet that we are all programmed to accept, but with time the cravings go away and the way you feel on the other side is totally worth it! It doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice anymore and being creative in the kitchen to make satisfying, delicious food is all part of the fun!

Left: Zucchini tuna melts with cheese and avocado mayo. Right: Cauliflower, bacon and asparagus soup with homemade almond flour cheese scone. Photo credit: Matt Barrie

If you’d like to follow my journey and pick up any tips and tricks I’ve discovered along the way, I’ve recently started a public Instagram account. You can follow along @type1ketoguy.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Study Sheds Light on How High Blood Sugar Can Cause Complications Years Later

People with all types of diabetes are at a higher risk for numerous health complications, in particular for various vascular problems. While it is known that consistently tight glycemic management can greatly minimize these health risks, there are numerous factors which will determine long-term health outcomes.

One interesting concept is that of “metabolic memory,” a phenomenon that suggests high blood glucose levels experienced early on (for instance, before and some time after diagnosis) may still play a role in the development of complications years later, even if blood glucose has been generally well-managed. Several theories have been proposed as to why this may be, and most recently, researchers at the City of Hope conducted a study that may help explain why. The results of the study were recently published in Nature Metabolism.

Researchers selected patients from the DCCT/EDIC trials and compared their DNA to identify differences as they relate to glycemic management histories. The scientists were looking at something called DNA methylation, a process that involves the attachment of chemical groups (methyl groups) to specific regions of DNA.

The addition of certain chemical groups to DNA can change its function. This is one example of epigenetic regulation, a way that gene expression can be altered without a change in the actual DNA sequence (i.e., a mutation). These chemical groups that bind to the DNA can change the way that gene behaves, may affect the function of other genes and alter various physiological events downstream.

In this study, the authors report that they uncovered a connection between the HbA1c levels of patients at the end of the DCCT, their DNA methylation patterns, and the development of complications later in life. They believe that these differences in DNA methylation may promote the development of diabetes-related retinopathy and neuropathy (and likely other complications as well). In fact, many of these changes were occurring in genes that are directly relevant to the development of complications.

Rama Natarajan, PhD, one of the authors of the study, had this to say in a recent press release:

“This comprehensive study has systematically compared the epigenetic states of a large number of type 1 diabetic subjects with their glycemic history and their future development of key diabetic complications over 18 years. While the link between epigenetics and diabetes and related complications has been reported before, this is the first large scale study in type 1 diabetes showing that a prior history of high glucose levels can cause persistent changes in DNA methylation to facilitate metabolic memory and trigger future diabetic complications. This study provides the first evidence in humans supporting the link between DNA methylation in inflammatory and stem cells, a patient’s blood sugar history and development of future complications.”

Having a better understanding of detectable “markers” for complications before they even develop may mean earlier detection (i.e., via blood test) and more timely treatment of diabetes complications in the future. This research group is currently continuing to explore these findings, in collaboration with other research groups. They are planning to evaluate the relationship of DNA methylation and other diabetes-related complications, as well as investigate whether these changes may be a reliable biomarker for early detection. They are also investigating what other epigenetic changes may be relevant in metabolic memory.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

10 Most Common Questions Answered After a Type 2 Diagnosis

Facing a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be a difficult and confusing time. Many ask “why me?”,  some may feel shame due to the stigma surrounding type 2,  while others want to know what they can proactively do to better their health. I asked people living with type 2 diabetes what their initial questions were at diagnosis. Hopefully, this can help some of you who are learning how to live with this new condition.

1. What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the presence of excess sugar in your blood due to your body’s resistance to insulin and, in many cases, production of too little insulin. You can think of insulin as the key that opens cells and allows glucose (i.e. sugar) to enter your cells. If your body is insulin resistant, then it cannot use the insulin effectively enough to allow the correct amount of sugar to enter your cells. In this case, it builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar levels.

2. Why did this happen to me?

We know that there are both environmental and genetic factors associated with a type 2 diagnosis. We also know that obesity can lead to diabetes, but not everyone who is obese winds up with type 2 diabetes. Age, ethnicity and numerous other factors also come into play. Try not to be discouraged by your diagnosis. Instead, use it as an opportunity to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. This will help you to avoid issues down the road, and can help turn the diagnosis into a positive change in your life.

3. What should my blood sugars be?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a fasting or before meal blood glucose of 80-130 mg/dL and 1-2 hours after the beginning of the meal (postprandial) of less than 180 mg/dL. There are of course factors related to food and insulin doses that can affect these numbers. Fasting numbers should ideally be under 100 mg/dL, but this will vary from person to person. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn what their specific recommendations are for your unique situation.

4. Are there alternative treatments?

While there are complementary and alternative treatment options available, they do not claim to cure diabetes. However,  they may be beneficial in many ways that can indirectly improve your diabetes health. With that said, traditional medicine prescribed by your doctor should always be taken, and alternatives could be an addition to your regular treatment protocol.

One alternative approach that is a surefire way to help your overall health and improve your blood sugars is improving diet and exercise. Eating healthy — making sure you get plenty of protein and focus on unprocessed and nutritious foods, like plenty of vegetables — and making sure to stay active can help you to stay maintain optimal shape and blood sugars.

Other alternative treatments to consider are meditation and aromatherapy, both of which may help to alleviate stress, a contributor to high blood sugars. Also, be sure to explore acupuncture and acupressure if you have neuropathy-induced pain, as both of these are known to alleviate pain and improve circulation.

While some herbs and supplements may help prevent heart disease and have other health benefits, there is no evidence that they can actually help a person manage their diabetes. The ADA, in its 2017 Standard of Medical Care in Diabetes statement, stated the following, “There’s no evidence that taking supplements or vitamins benefits those with diabetes who do not have vitamin deficiencies.”

5. Will I have to go on insulin?

At diagnosis and in the early stages of type 2 diabetes, your doctor will likely advise you to incorporate lifestyle modifications, like diet and exercise, to help lower your blood sugar. If that doesn’t help, or if you are not diagnosed early on, then oral medication is often recommended. If your blood sugars aren’t at an optimal level, it is possible that your doctor may suggest going insulin.

While some people will think going on insulin means they failed at controlling their blood sugars on their own, that is not the case and oftentimes, people prefer to be on insulin as you can be more flexible with what you eat and when. Insulin may also help your pancreas to make insulin longer and has been shown to help control blood sugars better than oral medications alone. It doesn’t matter how, but that you maintain healthy blood sugars to avoid complications such as vision loss, nerve and kidney damage and heart disease.

6. What doctors should I see annually?

Living with diabetes could mean complications down the road so it is important to stay on top of your diabetes care so you can flag issues before they worsen. You should visit your eye doctor annually, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, to check for potentially serious conditions, such as: glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.

Patients who have been living with type 2 diabetes for a long time are at a greater risk for kidney disease and may also need to be under a nephrologist’s care. They can also administer dialysis, for those patients undergoing dialysis treatment.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Podiatrists are also important doctors to routinely visit as nerve damage can ensue over time for patients living with diabetes. People with diabetes can also be more susceptible to wounds not healing properly, and podiatrists can check for infections that could worsen and lead to gangrene and even amputation.

Other specialists to consider are a dietician and personal trainer, if you feel you need help with reaching your diet and fitness goals.

7. How much should I expect this disease to cost me?

Living with type two diabetes places a significant economic burden on the individual. Costs vary depending on what country you live in. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine concluded that the average medical costs over someone’s lifetime were $85,200, of which 53% was due to treating diabetes complications, and 57% of the total attributed to macrovascular complications. Making sure to see your doctors regularly and staying on top of your diabetes management can result in long term savings in healthcare costs.

8. Can I manage it just through diet and exercise? Can it be reversed?

Remission of type 2 diabetes is possible.

While you can’t necessarily “reverse it” you can certainly control it and some can even put it into remission. This depends on the individual, their overall health, how far into the condition they are along with other factors such as beta-cell function and insulin resistance. However, with healthy eating and regular exercise, many are able to free themselves from medications, and maintain normal blood glucose levels, thus preventing complications.

Be wary of fad diets and gimmicks that promise to cure you of type 2 diabetes. Reversing and prolonging the progression of this disease is up to the individual and their dedication to a healthy lifestyle and numerous other health factors (like co-existing health conditions and access to the most appropriate and affordable healthcare) may help or hinder their efforts.

9. Does having diabetes lower my life expectancy?

Diabetes is historically known for shortening a person’s lifespan but the good news is that with medication, technology, and a little effort, this doesn’t have to be the case. According to the CDC, diabetes is the 7th most common cause of death in the United States. This statistic doesn’t distinguish type 1 from type 2 diabetes and it also doesn’t take into account all of the complications that could be the main cause for death.

If you are actively managing your diabetes, you are less likely to develop these issues that could lead to a shorter life span. And, on a positive note, many find that they are actually healthier once diagnosed, as it helps them to make better choices for a healthier lifestyle.

10. Are my children at risk?

While genetics do play a strong role, this only means you are more at risk of developing diabetes, not that you will necessarily be diagnosed. Many other factors come into play, and while diabetes runs in families, developing healthy habits, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping active can help stave off a diagnosis as well.

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. With a little determination and support from your medical team and loved ones, you can manage this condition. Asking questions and staying on top of your diabetes care is key to maintaining long term success.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

How Racial Bias Impacts Health Outcomes

COVID-19 is killing black Americans at three times the rate of white Americans. But it is not just COVID-19. Four hundred years of systematic discrimination has created systems that leave black people with dramatically worse health outcomes than others. Many living with diabetes have faced discrimination in their lifetime. Diabetes still poses barriers to getting fair treatment in our society, whether in school or work, exclusion from sports teams, or mismanagement in the hospital setting. All too often, living with diabetes as a person of color will compound these barriers.

Studies have shown that there are systemic, negative biases against people of color embedded in our healthcare system. This is layered on top of inequitable social determinants of health that people of color face, leading to poorer health outcomes, additional complications, and earlier deaths.

Black People Have a Higher Rate of Diabetes

Black people are more likely to have diabetes. There are 4.9 million non-Hispanic African Americans aged 20 years or older who have diabetes in the United States, according to the CDC. They are 77% more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic Caucasians. Part of this trend may be genetic, but one’s environment and socioeconomic status play a significant role in the development of type 2 diabetes, especially in a society without a robust social safety net.  Among racial and ethnic groups, African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4% (compared to Hispanics at 26.6% and whites at 9.9%). Additionally, 45.8% of young black children under the age of 6 live in poverty, compared to 14.5% of white children.

There are many factors that contribute to this, but a history of institutionalized racism (the legacy of slavery, redlining and Jim Crow laws) have largely prevented African Americans from cultivating intergenerational wealth (which for most Americans comes from buying and selling real estate), and breaking the cycle of poverty proves to be nearly impossible in most circumstances.

Poorer, segregated (de facto segregation) black neighborhoods are more likely to face food deserts (areas where there are few or no grocery stores), lack access to healthy foods (including fresh fruits and vegetables), families may lack access to reliable meals (especially in the summer, when schools are no longer serving children breakfast and lunch), and unsafe streets and a lack of green space (few or no public parks). Neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status are all risk factors for obesity and the eventual development of type 2 diabetes. 

Black People Have Higher Rates of Complications and Death

Black children and families are more likely to develop diabetes, and when they do, they face graver health outcomes. One recent study found that black youth have an average HbA1c of 10.6% compared to 8.3% for their white peers, and black children are twice as likely as white children to die from diabetes. Blacks are also more likely to experience greater disability from diabetes complications such as amputations, blindness, kidney failure, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Diabetic retinopathy is 46% more prevalent in African Americans than non-Hispanic whites, and African Americans are at least 2.6 times more likely to have end-stage renal disease due to diabetes than Caucasians. Most telling: the premature death rates for blacks with diabetes are 27% higher than for whites with diabetes.

racism and diabetes

Photo credit: iStock

Racism Is Built into Our Healthcare System

Implicit bias plays a large role in the unfair treatment of black people in the health care setting. In 2005, the National Academy of Medicine released a study that found that “racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.” This suggests that poverty and lower socioeconomic status does not account for the whole picture of poorer health outcomes in black people with diabetes.

The report continued, “…minority persons are less likely than white persons to be given appropriate cardiac care, to receive kidney dialysis or transplants, and to receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer, or AIDS. It concluded, “some people in the United States were more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes simply because of their race or ethnicity, not just because they lack access to health care.” Simply put: people are dying at higher rates just because the color of their skin is darker.

One study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than white patients presenting with the same disease and symptoms. Black patients with diabetes have higher rates of amputations than white patients, even when less invasive interventions are available. Additionally, another study showed that physicians were more likely to prescribe pain medications to white patients, mistakenly believing that black people “feel less pain”.

COVID-19 is killing black Americans at three times the rate of white Americans.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Social determinants of health, physician and healthcare workers’ implicit bias and systemic racism in our healthcare system all contribute to higher rates of disease, complications, and death. Neighborhoods and schools remain dramatically segregated and unequally funded.

The United States has a two-tiered health care system that provides fantastic care to those who can afford private health insurance, and little to none to those who cannot (aside from Emergency Department visits). We, as a society, do not value or fund preventive health care as much as we should. We don’t prioritize feeding our babies healthy food, or making sure they have space and safety to exercise regularly. We step in with too little too late for those who need help the most. We are biased in our healthcare decisions and have not fought against institutionalized racism early or long or loud enough. Now is not the time to “not be racist”, but to actively dismantle institutionalized racism from the inside out.

We need more black physicians, and nurses, and emergency medical technicians. We need to put our dollars into segregated neighborhoods and schools and prevent diabetes before it devastates underserved communities even more. We need to listen to black patients in hospitals. We need to trust black people when they voice their health concerns. We need more black voices in the diabetes online community. We need to lift up the voices of black people.

We need to do more for those that we have failed for far too long. We have already lost so much, and we need to act before it is too late.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

UK Study Under Review Finds People With Type 1 Diabetes More at Risk to Die of COVID-19 Than People With Type 2 Diabetes

There’s a large UK study (2 million people) under peer review that’s gaining traction on social media. Why? Because it defies our – already overtaxed mental states – of what’s possible.

Covid-19: people with type 1 diabetes more likely to die than those with type 2.” This is how The Guardian, among other publications, headlined it.

NHS (United Kingdom National Health Service) research reports that people with type 1 diabetes are at 3.5x higher risk for death if they get COVID-19 than people without diabetes. In contrast, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die as people without diabetes.

Surprised? I was. And even though the research is currently being reviewed, and nothing’s yet been proven, the data has a strong statistical basis.

If you’re curious what all this means, I can share with you information I’m privileged to have access to. I am part of a team of global diabetes experts – MDs, researchers, scientists, heads of the university, and hospital departments. The group was formed a few months ago under the leadership of Professor Itamar Raz, diabetologist and former head of Israel’s national diabetes health policies and Guang Ning, Head of Shanghai Clinical Center for Endocrine and Metabolic Disease.

The team is digesting a barrage of information, sharing their expertise and experiences and brainstorming prevention and treatment guidelines that they can safely, and quickly, recommend to health professionals and the public.

Unnerved by The Guardian article, I reached out to the group immediately. Philip Home, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, UK responded within an hour. It was 10:30 PM in the UK.

Here’s what I can tell you with the proviso, as Home emphasizes, that currently this research presents an interpretation of the data, which is dependent on a rapidly changing situation in the UK. This means its application to other people, in other circumstances, is not easy – medicine is as much art as it is science. And, it’s hard to know whether there have been any population and/or calculation errors. For instance, some people with type 2 diabetes on insulin may have been incorrectly counted as type 1s.

Below (in italics) is a summary from my email exchange with Professor Home.

Those Not Necessarily at Higher Risk:

This comment is currently a hypothesis, but we do think people who have no evidence of vascular damage, no retinopathy, no albuminuria (including microalbuminuria) and no cardiovascular disease, are likely not at greater risk to be hospitalized or die if they get COVID-19 than people without diabetes.

Further, if one’s blood sugar is also well managed, A1c under 7.5%, they are probably at no greater risk of getting COVID-19 in the first place than someone without diabetes.

Those at Higher Risk for Poorer Outcomes:

People who have type 1 diabetes who show evidence of vascular damage, should they get COVID-19, would be at higher risk of severe outcomes including hospitalization and death. The risk for vascular damage is higher the longer you’ve had diabetes, particularly if glucose levels have been high.

Further, if you have poor glucose management you may be at greater risk to contract the virus.

People can check with their health professionals whether their markers that indicate vascular damage are in range, that includes CRP, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and liver enzymes (ALT). They can also check if they have any albumin leakage through the kidney. Also, they can check with their eye professional whether they have any retinal damage.

Understanding that this is a vascular issue and that vascular damage increases risk for comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, I better understand why it’s possible someone with longer duration type 1 diabetes, who gets COVID-19, may be at higher risk for worse outcomes than someone with type 2 diabetes.

What else can you do now to protect yourself should you get COVID-19? First, don’t panic. As Home says, the data is not yet in. Second, use this time to build your nutritional and metabolic health. In other words, follow the common recommendations:

  1. Do your best to keep your blood sugar in target range
  2. Eat as healthily as you can – vegetables, whole, not processed foods, some fruit, dairy if you can tolerate it, beans, seeds, nuts, healthy fats
  3. Be active, even if you’re in lockdown

Like everyone, diabetes or no diabetes, wear a mask when out in public, stay six feet away from others and wash, wash, wash your hands. My personal prescription includes using those clean hands to then pour a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine.

Note: I wish to gratefully acknowledge Professor Home who responded to my query immediately, answered my questions, lowered my stress level and helped me interpret the medical data.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Your Eye Health During COVID-19 — What You Should Know

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Kira Wang

While the global pandemic has interrupted many healthcare services, eye care is still essential and available under certain circumstances

Diabetes can lead to changes or problems in your vision, making annual eye appointments a necessity for every person with diabetes. One can prevent complications with vision for many years, even many decades, with some luck – it’s about glucose management as well as genes. For people who already have eye complications, treatment may be required as often as every few months in order to keep eyesight as strong as possible. But COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of our daily lives, including the ability to visit eye care professionals for regular appointments. Although providers may not be able to see you in person at this time, there are still ways for you to access the care you need and keep your eyes as healthy as possible.

Can I still see my eye care provider in person?

We reached out to diaTribe’s network of healthcare professionals and learned that eye care providers are still treating emergencies and people with advanced cases of diabetes-related retinopathy and diabetes-related macular edema. Emergencies might include cases of trauma, infection, or sudden changes in vision (e.g., flashing lights, floaters, blurriness) – if you have experienced any of these situations, talk to your healthcare team right away.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes-related retinopathy or diabetes-related macular edema, delaying treatment can risk worsening vision, and you may need to receive in-person care. If your treatment has been rescheduled, double-check with your healthcare team to make sure your vision is not at risk. For more mild cases of diabetes-related retinopathy or diabetes-related macular edema, your healthcare professional may consider the risks of exposure to COVID-19 versus how your vision will be affected without scheduled treatment.

Planning ahead is important, and every person is different – ask your doctor in advance about what specific plan works for you. If you do visit your eye care provider in person, remember to wear a face covering—this will help keep you and your healthcare team safe!

Telemedicine and eye care: when can I talk to my healthcare professional virtually? 

For problems with the outside of your eye, video visits can help you connect with your provider right from your home. Issues outside your eye might include redness, discharge, or swollenness. Explaining your symptoms to your provider over video can help them determine whether you’ll need to be seen in person.

What should I know about scheduling eye appointments in the midst of COVID-19?

For those who already have regularly scheduled eye appointments, your check-ups may be delayed during these times. If your visit is delayed, you should still pay attention to any changes in your vision. You can do this by giving yourself an at-home eye test.  If you don’t already have annual visits with an eye care professional, try to set up an appointment as soon as eye care clinics are back up and running.

Remember: keeping your blood sugar levels in range is central to maintaining healthy eyes.

In these challenging times, we are impressed by the use of telemedicine, for eye care and beyond. For more information on telemedicine during COVID-19, check out these nine tips by longtime diaTribe advisor Dr. Francine Kaufman. To the many healthcare professionals out there, we are grateful for your service and support. Mark your calendars—July is Healthy Vision Month, and we’ll have more articles on eyes coming your way soon!

About Kira

Kira Wang graduated from Duke University summa cum laude with a degree in psychology and minors in biology and chemistry. She wrote a senior thesis on the transactional coping strategies of parents and youths with chronic illness and spent time researching eye imaging techniques in the Duke Eye Center.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Keys to Long Term Success and Preventing Complications

Contrary to popular belief, you can live a long, healthy life with type 2 diabetes, without developing complications. In its 2010 report, Diabetes UK found that someone with type 2 diabetes is likely to have a reduced life expectancy by up to 10 years, and someone living with type 1 diabetes is likely to have a reduced life expectancy by up to 20 years.

However, with advanced technologies and therapies, people are living longer and healthier than ever. Results from the University of Pittsburgh after a 30-year longitudinal study found that people with type 1 diabetes born after 1965 had a life expectancy of 69 years — longer than any study had ever previously found.

In part four of our four-part series on living well with type 2 diabetes, we will dive into the keys to long term success managing your condition, and how to prevent complications over the long term.

What Causes Complications?

It’s important to know what causes complications in people with type 2 diabetes. Not everyone living with diabetes will develop complications, but the occurrence of chronic hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, and retinopathy (the most common complications of diabetes). It’s important to keep your blood sugars in range as much as possible to help prevent the onset of these complications.

Keys to Long Term Success

A number of factors have been shown to help slow the progression of (or completely prevent) complications in people with diabetes:

  • Keep HbA1c in range – Studies have shown that keeping your HbA1c lower than 7% can prevent the onset of complications, and closely monitoring your blood sugar (testing regularly) can help tighten your control. Talk with your doctor about the ideal number of times she would like you to test per day, and make sure you always test before and after meals.
  • Take your medications as prescribed – Some people think that insulin is “bad” or they just don’t like the thought of taking a pill every day. You’re prescribed your medicine for a reason, and you should follow all doctors’ orders to take them as prescribed. Rationing or skipping doses can quickly lead to complications or even premature death.
  • Follow a sensible diet – You don’t need to go completely paleo or keto to have better blood sugars, but speaking with your doctor or seeing a nutritionist can help you develop an eating plan that will work for you that you can sustain. Be sure to include plenty of fresh vegetables, protein, and water. Eating similar foods, eating a low carbohydrate lunch (of 20 grams or fewer) and limiting meals at restaurants has also been shown to help improve blood sugar management in people with diabetes.
  • ExerciseExercise is one of the most important things you can do to prevent complications. Not only does it lower blood sugars, but it gets the heart working and the blood pumping, increasing circulation and strengthening your whole cardiovascular system. Exercise boosts your immune system, and increases serotonin in the brain, making you feel good and helping to prevent the onset of depression. According to our Thrivable Insights study, people with type 2 diabetes who have an HbA1c <6.5% are more likely (20% vs 8%) to exercise 4-6 times per week than people living with type 2 diabetes who have an HbA1c of 8% or higher.
  • Surround yourself with support – Diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint, and the journey can be lonely at times. A study from the University Hospital in Denmark found that loneliness may actually cause premature death by damaging the blood vessels of the heart, which can be compounded with a diagnosis of diabetes. Long term success with your diabetes care is much more likely if you surround yourself with supportive family and friends, or if you can find a community who will understand. Sharing your thoughts, worries, and feelings will help lighten your load, and you may just learn a thing or two that you didn’t previously know about diabetes and how to better care for yourself!

Have you had diabetes for a long time, and are thriving without complications? What are some of the best strategies you’ve employed to achieve success? Share this post and comment below!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Research Trends with Dr. Maria: Cholesterol Benefits & More

Dr. Maria Muccioli holds degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology and has over 10 years of research experience in the immunology field. She is currently a professor of biology at Stratford University and a science writer at Diabetes Daily. Dr. Maria has been living well with type 1 diabetes since 2008 and is passionate about diabetes research and outreach.

In this recurring article series, Dr. Maria will present some snapshots of recent diabetes research, and especially interesting studies than may fly under the mainstream media radar. Check out our first-ever installment of “Research Trends with Dr. Maria”!

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Allergen in Diabetes Tech Adhesives

Diabetes technologies, like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors, are steadily gaining popularity, especially among patients with type 1 diabetes. While the technological advances have shown considerable benefit in improving patient outcomes and quality of life, one common issue is the unfavorable reactions to adhesives. A recent study published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics identified that a common culprit of these allergic reactions to adhesives may be a chemical called colophonium, a commonly-used adhesive, which was shown to be an allergen in over 40% of patients in the small study. Read more about the study and the use of this adhesive in medical products here.

Bariatric Surgery May Worsen Retinopathy

Retinopathy (eye disease) is a common complication of diabetes, and can be serious, leading to severe visual impairment and even blindness, especially when left untreated. A recent study published in Acta Ophthalmologica has uncovered a potential link between patients who undergo weight loss surgery and worsening retinopathy. Researchers adjusted for confounding variables, including glycemic control (A1c) and found that those who underwent bariatric surgery experienced worse retinopathy outcomes. Although the sample size was small, the data showed a significant worsening of eye disease in those who underwent surgery as compared to controls. Learn more about the study and outcomes here.

Super Healthy Probiotic Fermented Food Sources

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Benefits of Probiotics for Type 2 Diabetes

The relevance of the gut microbiome in various health conditions, including diabetes, is gaining more and more attention. A recently published meta-analysis in The Journal of Translational Medicine discusses what we currently know about the effects of probiotic supplementation in patients with type 2 diabetes. Excitingly, probiotics can improve insulin resistance and even lower A1c! Learn more about exactly what the clinical trials have shown here.

Herbal Therapies Gaining Attention

With most modern medicines derived from plant compounds, it is not surprising that more research is being geared toward examining the effects of various herbal remedies on blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. A recent review published in The World Journal of Current Medical and Pharmaceutical Research summarizes the effects of some medicinal plants with potential anti-diabetic properties. Learn more about what is known about commons herbs and how they may be beneficial for glycemic control here.

Low HDL Cholesterol Linked to Beta Cell Decline

Research has previously suggested that higher HDL cholesterol levels may be protective of beta-cell function. A longitudinal study recently published in Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews indicated that patients with lower levels of HDL cholesterol were more likely to experience beta cell deterioration and develop type 2 diabetes than those with higher HDL cholesterol levels. Learn more about this study here.

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Please share your thoughts with us and stay tuned for more recent research updates!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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