How Diabetes and the Environment Are Linked

One in 10 U.S. Latinos aged 20 and older have diagnosed diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Like many Hispanics in the country, my family has its fair share of diabetics and we are all too familiar with the different types of diabetes: Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes — gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes, diabetes that require insulin, diabetes controlled by diet alone, foot sores and other ailments associated with the disease. We, too, are familiar with the confusion and fear of where these diseases come from and whether they will take another life in our family.

Diabetes, by the way, is a group of diseases distinguished by high levels of blood glucose due to defects in insulin production. Diabetes if left untreated can lead to serious complications like blindness and foot amputations, and even premature death. According to the National Institutes of Health, diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States with healthcare and related costs totaling $174 billion annually.

Both my maternal grandmother and aunt — her daughter — died of heart failure. My aunt died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in front of her then 12-year-old son. Both women battled with their weight and Type 2 diabetes. My mother has Type 2 diabetes. Because of my family’s history with the disease as well as the amount of weight I gained in my two pregnancies — I ended up giving birth to two large babies — our doctors have always monitored me and my children for diabetes.

The fear of becoming diabetic motivates me to eat as healthy as possible and to exercise. But there is one aspect of the disease for which I have no control: the environment.

The first time I learned of an outside connection to diabetes was in California when I advocated for the phasing out of a toxic chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastic baby products like bottles and sippy cups. At the time, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a major study linking BPA to diabetes and heart disease. It was then that I stopped putting plastic bowls in the microwave oven, switched to glass bottles for my toddler and opted to buy BPA-free products instead.

Most recently, I read a book (pictured above), titled The Buena Salud Guide to Diabetes and Your Life by Jane L. Delgado, Ph.Dl, M.S., who also happens to be the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Dr. Delgado not only addressed lifestyle choices associated with diabetes like inactivity and a poor diet, but she also went into detail about how our toxic environment could contribute to more cases of diabetes. Here is what she had to say about the impact of air pollution on our health:

What we know for sure is that there are too many pollutants and toxic substances and that EPA keeps track of too few of them….Airborne toxics include benzene (which is found in gasoline), dioxin, asbestos, and toluene and metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds. Keep in mind that sometimes the most hazardous particles to breathe are the ones that you cannot see.

Dr. Delgado suggested that families take inventory and reduce the toxic chemicals they are exposed to, including “household cleaning products, bug sprays, paint, garden and plant chemicals, and so on.”

I would take Dr. Delgado’s advice a step further. For too long we have allowed private industry to pollute in the name of putting personal profits over the health of the larger community. Why not tell the EPA to do its job and help us reduce toxins in our air? Here is the website to do that.

We have control over whether or not we exercise, and for the most part, what we feed our families. We don’t have control over the air that we breathe. The least that polluters can do is to clean up their act, or foot the bill for our health care.

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The DREAM Act may come up for a vote this week. Here is a list of Democratic and Republican legislators whose votes are up in the air. Please call if any of them are your members of Congress.

In somewhat related news, the Pentagon released a report stating that 70 percent of U.S. service members believe repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have little or no effect on their units, according to the Washington Post. Also in the Washington Post: in one of the few bipartisan votes during this Administration, the Senate passed a sweeping food safety bill to ensure that less Americans get sick from salmonella and other food contaminants.

Yesterday, I reviewed relationship expert Laurie Puhn’s book Fight Less, Love More. Coincidentally, she also had a column in the Huffington Post about the root of divorce. Also from Puhn’s Expecting Words blog: she wrote a response to the responses she received to a column she wrote about a hospital doing away with the nursery. She thought it was unfair for a tired mother to have to care for her baby round-the-clock while she was at the hospital. What is your take on this?

The number of adults in Texas with diabetes is expected to quadruple over the next 30 years, according to the Texas Tribune. Demographers are attributing the spike in diabetes cases to an aging population and obesity.  

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Monday Morning Open Thread

Happy Monday, MTs. Hope you’re not too tired after the Super Bowl! A few stories that caught my eye:

Interesting research for those who have Type I Diabetes: A new study has been released that demonstrates that a computer algorithm tracking insulin levels and recommending frequent recalibration of glucose levels can help prevent very low levels of glucose overnight.

The study reported that a novel computer algorithm that analyzed children’s glucose levels and recommended frequent adjustments in their insulin doses was better at preventing very low glucose overnight than a standard diabetes management system.
That standard system involved a continuous glucose monitor that operated separately from a preprogrammed insulin pump — an approach now used by many of the estimated three million people nationwide who have Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is a disease that often develops early in life and is separate from Type 2 diabetes, which often stems from obesity.
Very low glucose, called hypoglycemia, is a condition that poses risks for people with either form of diabetes, potentially causing shakiness, dizziness, seizures, coma or even death. But it is a particular concern among children on insulin because their blood sugar levels tend to fluctuate more widely, researchers said.

In effect, if a device were developed that integrated the algorithm with the insulin pump, one would have an artificial pancreas. Onward bionic organs! I think this is cool as hell – can I get a Moment of Geek, please?


Surely, I can’t be the only one with a mordant interest in obituaries? If I am, forgive me this entry: I read the obituary of Dr. Jack Block, a psychologist who studied a group of people from the age of 4 until the age of 32 and came up with some interesting conclusions on psychological make-up:

Investigating the ways in which subjects’ early lives informed their later ones, the Blocks looked at issues like childhood responses to parental divorce, adolescent drug use and adult political affiliation.

In a 1986 study, for instance, they examined members of the original group whose parents eventually divorced. Conducted with Professor Gjerde, the study upended the received wisdom that divorce in and of itself causes disruptive behavior in children.

Instead, the authors found, children from the divorced families — in particular the boys — had displayed antisocial behavior years before the divorce took place. In other words, the boys’ behavior, with the stresses on family life it entailed, could have been a cause of divorce as well as a consequence.

A 1990 study, by Professor Block and Jonathan Shedler, found that teenagers who experimented with drugs in a limited way tended to be better adjusted than those who either used drugs habitually or abstained entirely.

One of Professor Block’s studies drew particular notice in the news media. Published in The Journal of Research in Personality in 2006, it found that subjects who at 3 years old had seemed thin-skinned, rigid, inhibited and vulnerable tended at 23 to be political conservatives. On the other hand, 3-year-olds characterized as self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating and resilient were inclined to become liberals.

Snort! Hey, it’s science. Even if science does have a well known liberal bias.

And finally, in legal news: a music publishing house that owns the rights to the children’s song “Lookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree“  is in for a massive payday after winning a court case against band Men at Work for using a suspiciously similar riff in their hit song “Land Down Under.“

The Federal Court ruled that flute riffs in the 1979 and 1981 recordings of the iconic song reproduced a substantial part of Kookaburra , infringing its copyright.

In a statement released late last night, [Colin] Hay – who wrote Down Under with Ron Strykert – hit out at Larrikin Music Publishing, which now owns the rights to Kookaburra . The song was written in 1934 by Toorak school teacher Marion Sinclair as part of a Girl Guides competition, but the copyright not registered until 1975.

“I believe what has won today is opportunistic greed, and what has suffered is creative musical endeavour,” Hay said.

Now, now,  Colin, didn’t your mom ever teach you not to take things without asking? Where are your manners?

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Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Magazine publisher Conde Nast will be shutting down four of its magazines: Gourmet, Cookie, Elegant Bride and Modern Bride, according to NPR. Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon called them “lady magazines.” But I would classify them as “high-end magazines” with a small audience in today’s market conditions.

Good news from the Associated Press: Fewer schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Wisconsin couple convicted of reckless homicide for praying rather than seek medical treatment for their now dead 11-year-old daughter will be sentenced shortly, according to Salon Wires. The couple faces up to 25 years in prison for refusing to seek medical treatment for their daughter, Madeline Neumann, who died from untreated diabetes.  

A Dallas judge not only ruled that two men married in Massachusetts could divorce in Texas, but that the state’s gay marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s right to equal protection, according to the Dallas Morning News.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Low Levels of Vitamin D Plague U.S. Children

Two new studies have shown that millions of U.S. children — about 9 percent of kids and adolescents in the country — have a vitamin D deficiency that is putting them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, bone malformations and other ailments, according to a story in the Washington Post.

About 9 percent of those ages 1 through 21 — about 7.6 million children, adolescents and young adults — have Vitamin D levels so low they could be considered deficient, while an additional 61 percent — 50.8 million — have higher levels, but still low enough to be insufficient, according to the analysis of federal data being released Monday….

Low Vitamin D levels are especially common among girls, adolescents and people with darker skin, according to the analysis of a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 children. For example, 59 percent of African American teenage girls were Vitamin D deficient, Melamed’s study found.

The researchers and others blamed the low levels on a combination of factors, including children spending more time watching television and playing video games instead of going outside, covering up and using sunscreen when they do go outdoors, and drinking more soda and other beverages instead of consuming milk and other foods fortified with Vitamin D.

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Metabolic Syndrome

Just before our vacation, I had a doctor’s visit – a follow up to a routine visit a month ago.  I haven’t seen an Internist regularly for at least 10 years, so this is also a chance to begin a relationship with someone to build health (not just address any illness that might arise).

So, he looked at my blood tests and said I have “metabolic syndrome” and I”m “borderline diabetic”.  This means my blood sugar is high, overall cholesterol is high, and triglycerides are high.  In addition, I am overweight.  These are all high risk factors.  The treatment…..lose weight.  


Well, it’s no shock that I need to lose weight. I have diabetes in my family, so that’s not a shock either.  But hearing it all put together like this was sobering.  

Leaving the next day to go on vacation was sort of surreal – it’s hard to make good eating choices on the road, and I didn’t really have a chance to digest all the news.  But, spending time with my mom helped – she has high blood sugar that’s managed by diet – and she gave me some suggestions.

Anyone have experience with “metabolic syndrome”?  The doc’s recommendation is “low carb/no sugar”.  I think I already eat a pretty low fat/low sugar diet, but I guess I need to do better.  Low carb will be hard for me – that’s my weak spot, my craving.  Also, I eat mostly vegetarian – so a “High protein” diet isn’t just eating more meat, as my doctor and DH think.

Any meal planning ideas for me?  I”m hoping to do the weight loss on my own, but may do WeightWatchers or meet with a nutritionist.  I hope that will address the ‘metabolic’ issues.

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Weekend Open Thread

It’s the weekend! Has everyone recovered from the Christmas rush? I am in that strange place: exhausted, incredulous that it already came and went, and a little bit sad that it’s all over, too.

I chose not to take much vacation time over the holidays so it was back to work on the day after Christmas. I ended up writing a fun and quirky story about a family who discovered $10K in cold, hard cash inside a box of Annie’s crackers from Whole Foods. You have to read it to believe it.

What would YOU do if you found $10K in cash? I told DH I would so keep it…but my guilty conscience just might win out in the end.

Here’s a cringe-inducing PSA: heavy toilet seats can pose a danger to little boys using the potty.

In each case, the youngster was trying to urinate on his own and had lifted the toilet seat, only to have it fall back down. An industry report states that wooden toilet seats are becoming more popular as a possible explanation for the increase in injuries.

The story advises installing “soft fall” toilet seats in homes with young children, among other precautions.

If any of you are Facebook members, please consider joining this virtual protest going on today. A group has formed whose mission is to get Facebook to stop classifying pictures of women nursing as obscene. I personally haven’t posted any pictures of me nursing, but I do have some beautiful shots that I treasure, and it pisses me off whenever anyone deems nursing obscene or dirty in some way.

Finally, hat tip to Rachel for passing this story along: it seems that a high-fiber diet is more effective at controlling diabetics’ blood sugar than the long-recommended whole grain diet. The article doesn’t address it, but I am assuming the same holds true for gestational diabetes, as well.

What’s everyone up to this weekend? We’re meeting old friends for lunch and attending a 50h anniversary party. I’m also in the midst of planning Maya’s 4th birthday party on January 17th…sigh. By the time the end of January rolls around, I am one tired lady!

Chat away…

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Thursday Open Thread

A recent study found that all Americans will be fat in 2048. Also expected to balloon are healthcare costs directly related to excess pounds, which will double each decade, reaching $957 billion in 2030 — accounting for one of every six healthcare dollars spent in the U.S.

A team in the University of Warwick believe that eating broccoli could reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels. The key is said to be a compound found in the vegetable, called sulforaphane, which encourages production of enzymes which protect the blood vessels. So, we should definately add more broccoli to our diet, or as my daughter used to call it, little trees.

What makes men cry? Some of the ten reasons mentioned ranged from “making parents proud” to “tears? What tears? It’s just dust in my eyes.”

Wonder what your wedding dress says about you? Click on the link and see…then share! My dress wasn’t mentioned. I wonder what off the rack and cost less than $40 says about me?

A study of Microsoft’s instant messaging network supports the popular idea that everyone on the planet can be connected through fewer than seven links in a chain of contacts. What that means is that YOU TOO are only six (or actually 6.6) degrees away from Kevin Bacon!

I tested it myself and found that I am only four degrees away from Kevin Bacon himself. My good friend Aneela Zaman was in Big Shots with Norma Michaels, Norma Michaels was in Wedding Crashers with Kathryn Joosten, and Kathryn Joosten was in Rails and Ties with Kevin Bacon. How many degrees away are you?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Dispelling Diabetes Myths

Parents magazine recently dispelled what have become myths regarding childhood diabetes. Despite all the hype surrounding childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, it’s actually type 1 — the autoimmune disease — that is growing at an alarming rate and is actually more common than type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented with diet.

What were some of the other myths it encountered? Most children who get diabetes are fat, for example.

Only 3,700 children are diagnosed with type 2 every year compared with 15,000 who develop type 1, according to a large study that provides the first detailed look at diabetes in U.S. kids. In many ways, the two forms of diabetes are very different. In type 1, which has no known cause, the immune system mistakenly destroys healthy cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that helps the body get energy from food. To make up for the shortfall, children typically need injections of insulin several times a day. In type 2, the pancreas usually makes plenty of insulin (at least at first), but cells throughout the body have trouble using it — a condition known as insulin resistance.

If they are so different, then why are they lumped together? From Parents: “But no matter what the type, diabetes causes high blood-sugar levels when glucose from food — the body’s equivalent of gasoline for a car — builds up because it can’t get into cells without insulin. Over time, excess blood sugar can damage organs and tissues throughout the body.”

Much emphasis has been placed on prevention of diabetes in minority enclaves. But it is actually white children who are at greatest risk for contracting the disease, according to Parents.

Many people have heard that diabetes is more of a threat to minorities, but about 71 percent of all children who have the disease are white, estimate researchers in the landmark SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study. “Type 1 diabetes, which is far more common than type 2, occurs at higher rates in whites,” says Dana Dabelea, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the department of preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center. Although type 2 does occur more frequently in minorities — including African-Americans and Hispanics — their overall risk of getting diabetes is much lower.

As I have often heard even in my own family, which is not immune to obesity and type 2 diabetes, the disease is caused by too much sugar intake. As it turns out, we are wrong.



While type 2 is typically related to being overweight, sugar has no greater impact on glucose levels in the blood than other types of carbohydrates like rice and potatoes. Doctors are concerned about sugar mainly because it’s found in fattening foods like cookies and ice cream that children love.

Also, not all children with diabetes need insulin shots, according to Parents.

Many children who have type 2 diabetes can get their blood sugar levels under control just by eating better, losing weight, and exercising regularly, which can help insulin work more effectively. If these lifestyle changes aren’t enough, they can also take oral medications like metformin. But even kids who need to take insulin — all children with type 1 and half of those with type 2 — don’t need to face shots every day.

The last fact Parents uncovered? Even children with diabetes who feel healthy could face complications. (Sorry, I hate ending on this note!)

It takes about five to 10 years for poorly controlled blood sugar to produce any major complications, according to experts. Serious complications are not inevitable, says Dr. Abuzzahab. “They’re all related to poor blood-sugar control, and most kids can decrease their risk with the right treatment.”

I felt a twinge of guilt reading this. Recently, I got in yet another argument with my mother, who is obese and has type 2 diabetes, for giving my son a whole piece of flan when I wanted him to eat only half. “Mom, too much sugar gives you diabetes!” I yelled at her. I am reminded of a common bumper sticker here in Berkeley: “Don’t believe everything you think.” Wow, I feel like a jerk.

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Children with Diabetes and Food Temptations

This Salon article made me cringe in the way you would if you read a description of a heroin addict injecting smack in her toes. Eek.  

Teen girls with Type 1 diabetes can suffer from bulimia — in this case known as diabulimia — like anyone else. Risking blindness, amputations, comas and even death, they eat a lot of fat and sugar and skip insulin shots to lose weight. Eek.

Thousands of the approximately 1 million people with Type 1 (or juvenile-onset) diabetes are willing to take the risk…

These are girls growing up in the same diet-obsessed America as everyone else. They might begin childhood average size, or even a little fleshy. Then, inexplicably, they begin to lose weight no matter how much they eat. The other symptoms of illness — excessive thirst and fatigue — are far less compelling than the ability to eat an entire bag of chips without getting fat. But eventually, someone else catches on, a parent or a doctor, and they’re diagnosed with diabetes: taught to read food labels as carefully as a scientist; warned to restrict their caloric intake religiously; and put on a medication called insulin that perversely, literally overnight, causes them to plump up like a water-soaked sponge.

Further, they must go through life focused, constantly, on food — but only its chemical elements, never its comfort or taste. And the cure is hardly attractive: They will gain weight, even eating as ascetically as monks. The untreated disease, however, with its wasting syndrome? Now that has its appeal.

Katie, a young woman from suburban Minnesota, was a competitive gymnast on a team that was Olympics-bound several years ago. At 4-foot-10, she weighed about 60 pounds; she collapsed often, but at the end of every practice, her coach would stand her in front of the other girls. This, he told them, was how a gymnast ought to look.

Katie was banished from the team when she gained weight on insulin shots. She was called “fat“ and pushed to diabulimia to the point she was skipping heart beats on her newfound “diet.“ Fortunately, she is now married, a stay-at-home mother and cured of diabulimia. She is working with a dietician who is taking her diabetes into account.

But I cringed at the risks these women are willing to take to lose weight. Then again, when you are a teenager you can’t imagine life beyond high school. The temptation to follow such a dangerous diet to lose weight — not to mention, eat the same foods as your friends — is too tempting.

God, I hope my daughter never contracts either disease. I love to eat, and fortunately, am the type of person who doesn’t gain weight when she eats. But my poor mother, who I just saw, has Type 2 diabetes and is overweight, yet still eats what she wants. I am afraid I have nagged her too much and now don’t say anything to her. But if I saw my daughter have such a dysfunctional relationship with food, I don’t know what I would do.

Do any of you have children with diabetes? How do you help them deal with temptation when they are alone with friends?

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