North Carolina D-Mom Pamela Heyward likes to describe herself as a "mom on a mission."
That mission: To create a fast-acting glucose product that raises blood sugar quickly but isn't a glucose tablet and doesn't require all the guesswork that goes into calculating how much juice or candy you might need.
What Pamela invented is the new glucose powder pouch known as Elovate 15, simply named after the fact that they contain exactly 15 grams of fast-acting sugar inside each slim, portable pack. As of Spring 2014, she's gotten her new product off the ground and into the hands of people with diabetes and, one low blood sugar at a time, is making a difference in people's lives.
We think Pamela's efforts are well worth a mention in our Small But Mighty series -- showcasing "D-mom and pop shops" founded and run by people passionate about improving life with diabetes.
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Although Pamela's on the East Coast, she's working with a handful of others in parts of the country, including New York where the glucose powder's produced and packaged. Her key partner is in California, business development and product management consultant Don Kloos, who's not diabetic but suffers hypoglycemia himself. Together, they founded a virtual parent company called Diasan Corp. The name is actually two words fused together: diabetes and sana (Latin for treatment or healing). Kloos tells us the small startup is in talks with a national diabetes marketing company about a possible partnership or investing in Elovate 15.
Eventually, Diasan plans to introduce more products beyond fast-acting glucose, including a collapsible foot cabinet to help inspect your feet and see ulcers -- something us diabetics can be especially prone to. But as of now, the inaugural product is Elovate 15.
We talked with Pamela by phone recently to get the back-story here, and I also got to try out some of their new cherry-flavored Elovate 15 pouches, thanks to a dizzying low blood sugar of 50 mg/dL that struck without warning!
The idea for a new type of fast-acting glucose first came to mind several years ago on a family ski vacation. Two of Pamela's four kids have type 1, and she remembers bundling up her two diabetic daughters for a gondola ride: Tayler, who's now 23 and was diagnosed at age 3, and Emily who's 20 and was diagnosed at 13.
"We had just gotten the kids all dressed up to go out on the gondola, and they went low," Pamela recalls. "We had to undress them and treat, and then I started thinking about how scared I was to send them up on that mountain. That got my wheels turning -- that I wanted an alternative sort of glucose instead of tabs or juice that would be easy to carry."
Describing her family as one that eats healthy and doesn't drink juice, but instead sticks to fresh fruits, protein and water, Pamela says it became clear that they needed another glucose option.
"If you have three lows a week and you treat with juice or candy, that's 26,000 more calories a year and 7 pounds of weight gain," she says, noting it's all the other ingredients aside from the glucose that impact weight. "And because it's not as fast-acting but has to be converted, that means extended periods of low blood sugars then make you want to eat more... which then causes your blood sugars to skyrocket. It's a vicious cycle, and that's what I wanted to address."
So she started exploring other easy-to-carry options like a healthy powder form. What resulted comes from years of trial and tribulation, Pamela says. She used to have all kinds of glucose products shipped to her home, and laughs now at how the post office probably thought she was running an illegal drug business.
Pamela and her team eventually consulted scientists to come up with an all-natural powder that doesn't have any dyes in it, is gluten-free and instantly dissolves in your mouth. In developing the powder, they surveyed about 700 PWDs (both type 1 and 2) online and learned that cherry is the preferred flavor. Right now, cherry is the only available flavor. But they've developed fruit punch, strawberry kiwi and strawberry powders and are currently developing another flavor to be released in the future. Whatever the flavor, Pamela aims to create a "mildly-sweet and slightly tangy" powder, but something that isn't overwhelmingly sweet, she says.
Everything came together on Christmas Eve 2013, when they received their first infusion of funding through personal investments, and the first prototype was finalized by the end of February. That was enough to launch the product and get it to market.
"In launching this venture, I set out to create something so that my daughters would not have to force themselves to eat to treat their conditions, and not have to chew or swallow any juice or food," she said.
They launched the website in the spring and have been selling the glucose pouches online ever since, in box cartons of 6 packs for $7.99 -- breaking down to about $1.33 per pouch. By comparison, a 40-tab jar of GlucoLift costs $8.99.
But as someone who regularly faces overnight hypos and often ends up consuming mass carbs when I'm low, I found myself nodding along as Pamela told me about the product. I bought a box myself and have actually only had to use them once in the past few weeks.
I've written before that it's been tough for me to find that "perfect" option for quick-acting glucose. I loathe carrying a lot of supplies around everywhere, especially during summer months when I don't wear a coat or jacket. But I've actually always been a fan of glucose tabs, and have liked the little GlucoLift sample baggies with four tabs inside that are thin and easy to tote around; there are also the Level Foods gel packs that are pretty portable and taste good.
Really, the Elovate 15 pouches aren't too far off from another glucose powder called QuickSticks, which are like over-sized Pixie Stix but have only 10 grams of carbs. But word is those aren't being made anymore and are fading from the market, so this Elovate 15 is being seen as an alternative to replace those.
Still, for me and I imagine many others: it comes down to portability. And I personally am finding Elovate 15 is the most portable of them all!
Elovate 15 packs are flat, business-card sized pouches that are light and easy to carry, and when my blood sugars was low I found it wasn't difficult at all to tear open the pack (a struggle I've had with other products). They're basically designed to be similar to those candies called Lick N Stick, and Pamela says they're considering whether they might add a protein component to the packs at some point so that you won't see a BG crash after the post-sugar trends fade.
Most importantly, Elovate 15 works well. The more you put into your mouth, obviously the longer it takes for the powder to dissolve. It's not like the QuickStix that I found needed to be grinded and chewed a bit, but rather it's finer and smooth for easy consumption.
I actually consumed two packs at once because I was at the 50 mg/dL mark and just didn't want to wait for one to kick in and then have to treat more.
Of course, as we all know -- Your Diabetes May Vary and not all hypo treatments are created equal for everyone with diabetes. Just because 15g is the expert-recommended amount of glucose to boost a low blood sugar, that doesn't mean it's ideal for everyone. My own findings tell me it would have taken about 22g to actually get my blood sugar up around 100 mg/dL where I wanted to be. So, I went with that total of 30g.
And they tasted fine, for what they are. Honestly, I can't say I enjoy the experience of filling my mouth with cherry-flavored sugar. I'm not opposed to the taste of juice, candy or glucose tabs, so I may be a little biased on flavor here. But think about it: we're talking a mouth-full of sugar; it can only be so appealing.
To get around that mouth-full of sugar taste, I decided to convert my second Elovate 15 pouch into a glucose water version -- dumped the pouch into a small amount of bottled water. That actually tasted better and was easier to get down than just the powder itself. While that's certainly not how Pamela designed Elovate 15 to be used, she doesn't dissuade people from doing that and it's even listed as an option on their FAQ page.
The upshot is that for treating lows, I'd highly recommend these slim pouches. And I personally plan to carry them around during those times when I need something on-the-go, to quickly pop into a pants pocket or stuff into a bike pouch when I'm out riding. These are so very easy to use!
It's also great to hear Pamela say she's working with others in the Diabetes Community to help with hypos while promoting her new product. They've been donating Elovate 15 pouches to diabetes camps and other organizations, and most recently passed out samples at the Children With Diabetes Friends For Life conference in Florida.
Pamela and Kloos say they're working to get the product onto store shelves, at Amazon.com, and also into endo's offices and distributors' supply chains in order to make it available to a wider swath of PWDs.
With all of that in mind, we say thanks to Pamela and her family for giving us another great hypo-treating option!