Diabetics; hypo/hyperglycemics and the "Diabetes Epidemic" beginning to affect boomers

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There are eight million diabetics in the US and at least (AT LEAST) eight million more undiagnosed. And the numbers are growing as boomers reach the vulnerable age. Today's middle-agers are more prone to diabetes for several reasons, which are discussed at several websites and beyond the scope of this post. It might be wise to learn something about the disease in case things go badly wrong around the time you or someone you know shows symptoms. None in your family? None in mine either, not back to 1890, anyway. And no early deaths (except accidental or infant mortality). It was a complete shock when I realized I had this disease.

Initial symptoms: your eyesight starts to go. You put this down to middle age and buy stronger cheaters--but you still have difficulty recognizing labels on the other side of the grocery aisle. (It's reversible, almost 100% of the time.) You feel fatigued for no good reason. You may start to lose the weight you gained (I didn't)--and recent research indicates you may be fat because you have diabetes, not the other way 'round. Then you start to get thirsty--VERY thirsty. If you drink Evian, you fear you've consumed their production for the year. Obviously, you urinate much more frequently, and sweat too--no perspiring or glowing here! If you let these symptoms go for too long, you'll die. You can buy "dipsticks" to test the sugar in your urine and you can also buy glucometers, which give you a much more accurate check with a readout of the glucose count (it should be somewhere around 90-120, although it depends on the individual). I feel okay down to 85 but below that I have to grab some juice or other form of sugar--fast. When I reach about 115, I start to feel ooky.

As most of you know, I'm stocking up on my diabetes medication. I'm also looking at ways to help keep my blood sugar from spiking (which is how long-term damage occurs to kidneys, liver, heart, etc.--75% of diabetics die from heart disease). I know there are all sorts of alternative suggestions for controling diabetes but, frankly, after suffering the effects of a blood sugar too high AND too low, I really want to keep my meds close to me! Most unpleasant experiences.

There's currently a lot of interest in the Gylcemic Index, a list of about 300 foods (so far) which are measured in terms of their effect on blood sugar. There are some oddities here: basmati, especially brown, basmati rice is better for diabetics than regular rice, and is MUCH better than the rice found in Asian restaurants. The level of stickiness tells you how it will affect you; the less sticky, the better. Vinegar has been shown to ameliorate the effects of high-glycemic foods--potatoes, for instance. Here's another oddity: baked and mashed potatoes are worse for you than french fries, which are worse for you than boiled in one-inch chunks. So get the British habit of putting vinegar on your "chips" and add more vinegar to your Italian dressing. Make German potato salad.

Of course if you're diabetic or hyperglycemic, while you're trying out these changes, be careful you don't slip into hypoglycemia--have sugar handy wherever you are in the house. When I had a low blood sugar crisis not long ago, it happened so fast that had I not been four steps from the fridge and juice, I would have been in trouble. Trying to stay on my feet (draped inelegantly over the portable dishwasher, actually) was a problem and I couldn't speak coherently. Sweetie came home in the middle of this (thank goodness, because it was terrifying) and all I could say was, "Sokay--had juice--wait, wait!" And it took 10-15 minutes (a VERY long time) to reach coherence. Stability took longer, about twenty more minutes. What brought it on? Simply that I had been doing heavy physical labor and had forgotten to eat a mid-afternoon snack! (Diabetics have to eat six times a day.)

There are quite a few Glycemic Index sites on the web now, just search for them. Also look at the Sugar Busters diet, which is very similar to a diet based on the Glycemic Index.

The American Diabetes Association still includes 55% carbohydrates in its recommendations but I think I'm going to try a little more of the Index indications. Be very careful about changing your diet if you're a diagnosed diabetic. I'm very attuned to changes in my sugar levels and know immedately when there's even a slight change so that I can tweak it however necessary. Please note that I am not a medical practitioner and I am not dispensing medical advice.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), September 11, 1999


Hi Old Git! I REALLY appreciated you starting this thread. You mentioned: "There's currently a lot of interest in the Gylcemic Index, a list of about 300 foods (so far) which are measured in terms of their effect on blood sugar." Do you have anymore information or a link for this? Someone I love very much is a very brittle diabetic. Thanks again!

-- Mumsie (Shezdremn@aol.com), September 11, 1999.

Everyone should think about the Zone diet which calls for a reduction in the amount of carbohydrates we eat. A rule of thumb--never eat only carbohydrates. Always buffer high glycemic foods with protein and fat. Every meal should be a balance. Eating rice and beans? Add some olive oil and a couple of ounces of protein--soy if that's your thing.

-- Mara Wayne (MaraWayne@aol.com), September 11, 1999.

Mara, absolutely right. And the key to successful diabetes control is balance in every meal. BTW, I forgot to mention another very nasty side effect of diabetes--nerve damage (neuropathy).

Mumsie, here's part of a site at


but if you plug glycemic index into a search engine you'll come up with more, including recipes from the Sugar Busters diet.

The Glycemic Index

By Rick Mendosa


What is the Glycemic Index (GI)?

The glycemic index ranks foods on how they affect our blood sugar levels. This index measures how much your blood sugar increases in the two or three hours after eating.

The glycemic index is about foods high in carbohydrates. Foods high in fat or protein don't cause your blood sugar level to rise much.

A lot of people still think that it is plain table sugar that people with diabetes need to avoid. The experts used to say that, but the glycemic index shows that even complex carbohydrates, like baked potatoes, can be even worse.

When you make use of the glycemic index to prepare healthy meals, it helps to keep your blood sugar levels under control. This is especially important for people with diabetes, although athletes and people who are overweight also stand to benefit from knowing about this relatively new concept in good nutrition.

Recent studies of large numbers of people with diabetes show that those who keep their blood sugar under tight control best avoid the complications that this disease can lead to. The experts agree that what works best for people with diabetes -- and probably the rest of us as well -- is regular exercise, little saturated fat, and a high-fiber diet. That is excellent advice -- as far as it goes.

The real problem is carbohydrates. The official consensus remains that a high-carbohydrate diet is best for people with diabetes. However, some of the experts, led by endocrinologists like Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, recommend a low-carbohydrate diet, because carbohydrates break down quickly during digestion and can raise blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Many high-carbohydrate foods have high glycemic indexes, and certainly are not any good in any substantial quantity for people with diabetes. Other carbohydrates break down more slowly, releasing glucose gradually into our blood streams and are said to have lower glycemic indexes. Does a substantial quantity of these foods with lower glycemic indexes belong in your diet? Only your personal experience can answer that question.

Before the development of the glycemic index beginning in 1981, scientists assumed that our bodies absorbed and digested simple sugars quickly, producing rapid increases in our blood sugar level. This was the basis of the advice to avoid sugar, a proscription recently relaxed by the American Diabetes Association and others.

Now we know that simple sugars don't make your blood sugar rise any more rapidly than some complex carbohydrates do. Of course, simple sugars are simply empty calories, and still should be minimized for that reason.

Many of the glycemic index results have been surprises. For example, baked potatoes have a glycemic index considerably higher than that of table sugar.

A more pleasant surprise is the very low glycemic index of a tasty bean called chana dal, which is the subject of a separate Web page that I maintain at http://www.mendosa.com/chanadal.html.

Another pleasant surprise is pearled barley, which has a glycemic index of 36. That's much lower than any other grain. For example, brown rice has a glycemic index of 79, and wheat is even higher. [Good info follows]

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), September 11, 1999.

YUP! Walking through Sams and wife looked at me and said "OOPS" and sat down on a pile of (I think books). MY turn to run and find SOMETHING (NOT PICKY) to fix the problem with. She is typically the brittle one, I'm OK until i've been under a chronic-low grade stress for awhile and then I get brittle. After about 10 years, we've got it PRETY WELL knocked, just still forget sometimes, and get reminded the hard way.

Ih yeah, i forgot MANY of you I HAVEN'T met don't know. Mrs Driver and I are both hypoglycemics (Mrs. QUITE and me just a flat curve person [I actually DROP for the first 4 hours and THEN rise, she pops up a bit and then drops off the cliff BANG!])

Chuck a Night Driver

-- Chuck, a night driver (rienzoo@en.com), September 14, 1999.

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