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Diabetes Support in Korea

When Jeongkwan (Brian) Lee of the i-SENS planning division introduced me to Cheol Jean, Brian called him “the Korean David Mendosa.” Brian was being too generous to me.

Both of us have written about diabetes for years and have organized diabetes support groups. But Cheol Jean, whose business cards reads as Charlie Jean to make it easier for Westerners, has written four books about diabetes — twice as many as I have — and founded and leads a much larger diabetes support group.

Charlie Jean and I Meet

Brian and I arrived in Busan, Korea, on Sunday evening on the bullet train from Seoul. We are here to participate in the Eighth International Congress of the International Diabetes Federation’s Western Pacific Region at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO).

I will be covering the IDF meeting for HealthCentral from Monday through Wednesday. About 3,000 people are here for the meeting in Busan, mainly from Korea, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

I am old enough to have remembered this now vibrant city from the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter. In August and September 1950 North Korean forces drove back the UN Command, which included thousands of American troops, and South Korean forces — together with millions of refugees — to the extreme southeast corner of the country around the port of Pusan. Continue Reading

Diabetes Complications

Visualize Yourself

My friend Jay has type 2 diabetes and is a member of the diabetes support group that meets every month in my apartment. But he is also a primary care physician, and almost half his patients have diabetes.

Jay is therefore uniquely qualified to help us. At the most recent meeting of our support group we were already  running overtime. But it was Jay’s turn to speak, and he wanted to share with us the “shock treatment” that he uses with his new patients who have diabetes. I’m glad that he did and that I can share this treatment with you.

Jay starts by explaining that diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are the three main silent killers. Because they usually don’t offer us any advance warning of the hidden damage that they do to our bodies, these diseases are truly insidious.

Then, he suddenly turns off the lights in the windowless office. “Visualize yourself 15 years from now,” he says. “This is what you might be seeing then, if you don’t control your diabetes.”

This is Jay’s shock treatment. But any technique that will get us to open our eyes to the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes is better than none, he says.

Jay asked each of the members of our support group to look in the mirror each morning and visualize ourselves 15 years later. For me this gave me one more piece of encouragement to eat right, stay slim, and exercise so I will still be able to see my face in the mirror 15 years from now when I will be 90. If I’m still around then, I hope to continue seeing a computer monitor so I that I will still be able to write you.

As Jay left my apartment that day, I took him aside and told him that I already could visualize his shock treatment. My ophthalmologist had just told me after my semiannual checkup that I have two small micro-aneurysms in my left eye that he hadn’t seen before.

Jay’s shock treatment worked especially well because I was already shocked. Micro-aneurysms can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which can, of course, lead to blindness, the complication of diabetes that I have always dreaded the most.

Now I have even more incentive to keep my A1C level in the low 5 range, if not down to 4.5, which is my goal. I hope that you don’t need any more incentives to control your own diabetes.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.


True Immortals

A few days ago I received a rather unusual compliment, sent in an unusual way. True Immortals has got to be science fiction, but presents itself as being real. At least I think that it has to be science fiction.

The apparent narrator, supposedly named Glenn, admitted on a post earlier this month that he has diabetes. “That means it’s hard to keep my blood sugar under control, even with nine kinds of medication,” Glenn says. “I’ve had it since I was little, and it’s taken its toll. At the bottom of my mind there’s a hope that if we make contact with immortals we’ll discover some way not to die.”

Meanwhile, Glenn is doing everything he can to manage his diabetes. “I work with an endocrinologist, a cardiologist and a renal specialist, and I also see a holistic doctor and use supplements.” And he exercises.

But it was Glenn’s next sentence that really grabbed my attention. “I read like it was the Bible.”

“Because I do all this, I’ve held up longer than my specialists expected.” Now Glenn is worried that he won’t life long enough until “we learn how to overcome disease and death and stay healthy forever.”

A big part of me wonders if Glenn and the other people who believe that we can live forever are overly optimist. The other part of me believes that we can never be too optimistic. Better to think positive thoughts like those people who believe in immortality on earth than to wallow in negativity.

Maybe those who believe in true immortality are irrational. But my guess is that they will live longer than the naysayers among us, all the while taking better care of their bodies and having a happier life, no matter how short or long it is.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.


Natural Vitality

“Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee,” says Dr. Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, “but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”

He is the lead author of a series of studies that the Journal of Environmental Psychology just published in this June 2010 issue. I asked him to send me a PDF of the full-text of his research report, “Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature,” and he did. You can find the abstract online.

Instead of coffee, I restore my energy by going out for a hike. In fact, one of the most popular parts of my website is my blog of photo essays, “Fitness and Photography for Fun.”

Certainly, physical activity makes us feel better. Staying fit is indeed one of the four legs that those of us with diabetes have to keep our blood glucose levels down in the normal range (the other three legs are diet, reducing stress and inflammation, and usually taking oral medication or insulin).

Over the years I have written many articles extolling the benefits of exercise. Some of those articles say how much better I feel after going out for a hike.

Nature This Morning

That’s all true. But these new studies for the first time have teased out the effects of being out in nature alone from the feel-good effects that we get from physical activity and from the socializing that we often get at the same time.

Dr. Ryan and his co-authors were able to separate out the effects of nature alone. To do so they conducted five separate experiments with 537 of the usual suspects — college students.

What they found was so clear, Dr. Ryan says, that “being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels.” The Journal of Environmental Psychology article defines vitality as having physical and mental energy giving us a sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy.

When we have a greater sense of vitality we not only have more energy to do the things that we want to do but were are also more resilient to physical illnesses. “One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings,” he says.

I’m not knocking physical activity. Most of us who have diabetes need to get up and out a lot more. If you aren’t getting out yet, this beautiful late spring weather is a great time to start. I’m saying that getting our physical activity outdoors in nature gives us two for the price of one.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.


Life Isn’t Fair

All of us feel sorry for ourselves once in a while. That goes double for those of us who have diabetes.

We do have a serious disease that can be awfully hard on us. The complications of this disease are almost too much to even think about.

But we aren’t alone. If you are as inquisitive as I am, you talk to lots of people who have diabetes. And you will find some who have even worse conditions, believe it or not.

For example, last summer I hiked 132 miles in two weeks on a Sierra Club outing. Four other people made the same High Sierra trek with me, and I assumed that none of them had any physical limitations. Was I ever surprised to learn that every one of them had serious physical conditions — some worse and much more painful than my diabetes!

And this isn’t the half of it. I seriously encourage everyone to watch a bit of Nick Vujicic’s story. Nick is an Australian of Serbian descent.

“He was bitter until age 12, when his mother showed him a newspaper article about a man dealing with a severe disability,” according to an article about him. “It would change his outlook on life. Suddenly, he wasn’t the world’s only struggling person.”

I won’t say any more. Just watch a YouTube clip about him at

Life wasn’t fair to Nick, but he is far from bitter about it, which would be about the only thing that could be worse. Life is Beautiful.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.


Life Without Emotion

Sometimes the best way to understand something is to look at it from the other side. Those of us who have diabetes think a lot of the time about the special problems that we face. This makes thinking and acting as if we didn’t have diabetes all the more necessary. We all feel better when, for example, we can say that I am a lucky man or woman.

Yet sometimes it can help us to see the dark side of things. When we can fully envisage what we know in our hearts is what we want to avoid, we can move away from that negativity.

Someone who once was very close to me rarely if ever got excited about anything. In an emergency situation she was great, because she was always unflappable. But when things were great, by the same token she seldom if ever showed any enthusiasm. I admired her stoicism at the time, but now I feel sorry for her inability to experience emotion.

She came to mind today when I sat down to share a poem with you. This poem helped me see more clearly the value of emotion in our lives, and I think that it can help you too.

The author of this poem is the daughter of a friend of mine, and I reproduce it here with their permission. She wrote it as her essay to gain admission into an honors program at a Boston college. After you read it, I’m sure that you will appreciate that they accepted her application.

Life Without Emotion
By Ashley Adamson

Cones without ice cream
Sleep without sweet dreams
Beginning without end
Email without send
Stars without night
Wrong without right
A watch without time
Punishment without crime
Sports without competition
Practice without repetition
Studying without learning
Separation without yearning
Color without eyes
Graduation without good-byes
Birds without calls
Triumphs without falls
Sand without an ocean
Kids without commotion
Marriage without devotion
Life without emotion
Life without emotion?!?
Then you realize;
Dying is only one of many ways
You can lose your life.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.