The details on diabetes

An estimated 8 percent of the nation’s population has diabetes.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and with the American Diabetes Association reporting an estimated 25.8 million diabetics across the nation, including 1.9 million new adult cases last year, it’s time to get proactive in preventing this potentially fatal condition. 

Diabetes is characterized by big surges in blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, is not preventable. It occurs when the body doesn’t produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Type 2, the more common type, occurs when  insulin response is compromised by unnatural surges in blood sugar that the body just can’t manage. However, it is largely preventable.

“People can lower their risk of getting Type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a good diet,” says Lisa M. Davis, Ph.D, the director of research and development for Medifast, a weight loss meal replacement program. “Losing just 5 percent of your body weight can significantly lower your risk. For people with Type 2 diabetes who are overweight or obese, one of the most effective strategies for reversing the disease is losing weight and getting active.”

The average person doesn’t need superhero skills in the kitchen to temper the condition either — just the will to cut down on sugars and starches. “A well-balanced diet that emphasizes low-glycemic foods [like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains] will help. These do not cause sudden upsurges in blood sugar levels,” says Davis. “Exercise is also critical. It helps by sensitizing the cells that take up excess sugar from our bloodstream and making them work more efficiently.”

The Sorvinos lend support

Mira Sorvino does not have diabetes — but her father, actor Paul Sorvino, does. The father-daughter duo are educating others on the condition through their work with Diabetes Co-Stars, an awareness campaign that underscores the importance of caregiver support for people with the disease. Though the elder Sorvino says he knew nothing about the illness — and his daughter says she knew less than that — before his diagnosis, the two have adapted their lifestyles to keep Paul healthy.

“Part of what you have to do is just encourage the person who’s living with diabetes to stay on the straight and narrow, which can be really rough, especially if other people are pushing unhealthy choices on them,” Mira says. “Like, ‘Oh come on, have a piece of cake, live a little’ — they think that you’re depriving yourself, but for a person living with diabetes, when someone tries to hoist a big heavy dessert on them it’s really deleterious to their health. I’m really, really happy that Dad is following his doctor’s orders: he’s taking his medication, he’s exercising a lot more and he’s really changed his diet. I’m very proud of him.”

The Oscar-winning actress says that tackling the illness head-on has worked well for them.

“I think that many people try and wish it away,” Mira says. “If you stay on top of it it’s a very manageable condition. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence, it doesn’t have to ruin your life, you just have to face it with courage and it’s a lot easier to face it with support.”

“There’s an Italian saying,” Paul adds. “Not every ill comes to destroy you. This forces me to lose weight and think about things in a healthier way.”

For more on the Sorvinos and their work with the campaign, visit www.diabetescostars.com.


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