We know that the only person who can tell us what to eat and exercise is ourself. But most of us need a third leg of diabetes control — one or more of the prescription drugs — and we usually leave that decision up to our doctor.
Often this is a big mistake. Many of our doctors are too set in their ways. The problem is simply that doctors too are human.
Older doctors have practiced most of their lives with a Hobson’s choice of one oral diabetes drug. In 1957 the first sulfonylureas became available by prescription in the United States. Not until about 40 years later did the Food and Drug Administration approve a second diabetes drug, metformin.
Until we could get metformin, we did have the opportunity to take insulin instead of a sulfonylurea. And we had a lot of different sulfonylureas to choose from, making it appear that our choice was greater that it really was. Brand names include Amaryl, Glucotrol XL, Diaßeta, Glynase, Micronase, as well as Dymelor, Diabinese, Orinase, and Tolinase. Combination drugs like Metaglip, Glucovance, Avandaryl, and Duetact also are part sulfonylurea.
Since alliteration helps us to remember connections, we’re lucky that diabetes, depression, and the D vitamin all start with the same letter. We aren’t lucky that diabetes and depression are so closely connected, as I wrote in my essay on “Diabetes and Depression” here a year ago. But we’re in luck that vitamin D might treat both conditions, killing two birds with one stone, as our less technologically powerful ancestors used to say.
“About 70 percent of the population of the United States has insufficient levels of vitamin D,” says Adrian Gombart, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. “This is a critical issue as we learn more about the many roles it may play in fighting infection, balancing your immune response, helping to address autoimmune problems, and even preventing heart disease.”
People with diabetes may have even lower levels of vitamin D, according to a review last year in The Diabetes Educator. People at risk of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome (or syndrome x) also have low vitamin D levels.
Recent research found that 19 percent of people with type 2 diabetes probably suffer from major depression and an additional two-thirds of us have at least some depressive symptoms. People with diabetes are twice as likely to be depressed as other people.
Whenever I become conscious of a word or concept new to me, I began to notice it everywhere. All of you probably have had this experience.
It is so common that we even have a nice big word for it thanks to the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: Synchronicity.
A couple of weeks ago a member of the diabetes support group that meets in my apartment loaned me a book called Bad Science. A practicing physician in the U.K.’s National Health Service and newspaper medical columnist named Ben Goldacre wrote it and Fourth Estate published it last year in the U.K.
The book is a detailed indictment of the British press for its woeful ignorance of some basic scientific concepts. Like one of my favorites, “regression to the mean.” This sounds complicated. But it is simply the fact that everything, including our health, has a natural cycle. Since we tend to see a doctor when we feel the worst, we think that his or her treatment helped us, while we would soon feel better no matter what the treatment was.
When we don’t get our blood glucose levels low enough or take the diabetes medicine that our doctors prescribe, they often complain about our noncompliance. Particularly when we follow a very low-carb diet and are unlucky enough to have a nutritionist on our medical team, she is almost certain to give us a hard time.
When doctors and nutritionists do that, they are forgetting their place. The doctor-patient relationship is a status thing. While medical professionals usually earn more money than we do, they work for us. We are the ones who make them well off, if not rich.
We hire our doctors. We can fire them too. Several years ago when Byetta first came on the market, I knew that taking it would help me control my blood glucose and lose weight. The doctor I saw at the time had never heard of Byetta, so he had to read up on it. When he did, he refused to give me a prescription for it because he was sure that I would lose only a few pounds. I fired him and proved him wrong after I hired a compliant doctor.
The American Medical Association today published the results of a large and long study that is good news for anyone who has diabetes. The study shows that intensive control substantially lowers the risk of some serious complications of diabetes.
No surprise that intensive control works. But the surprise is how well it works.
The study followed 1,375 people with type 1 diabetes for 30 years of their diabetes. The complications measured were proliferative retinopathy, nephropathy, and cardiovascular disease. Conventional treatment led half of them to proliferative retinopathy, one-quarter to nephropathy, and 14 percent to cardiovascular disease.
Those in the intensive therapy group has substantially lower rates of these complications — 21 percent, 9 percent, and 9 percent respectively. Fewer than 1 percent became blind, required kidney replacement, or had an amputation because of diabetes during those 30 years.