During American Diabetes Month, Healthline helps facilitate some important conversations for those living with diabetes.
Experts Mike Hoskins of DiabetesMine, Emily Coles of the Diabetes Hands Foundation, Dr. Aaron Kowalski of JDRF, and Lynn Polmanteer of the Friedman Diabetes Institute (FDI)—the only panel member without diabetes—answered questions about what diabetics need to know.
Like any discussion on managing diabetes should, they started with the basics.
“I think the most common treatments are diet and exercise, since everyone with diabetes, regardless of type, needs to manipulate those things to manage blood sugar,” Coles said.
Polmanteer, a registered nutritionist, said people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes could benefit from the plate method: half of your plate should be non-starchy veggies, one-quarter should be carbohydrates, and one quarter should be protein.
“For those with type 1, or for those with type 2 taking mealtime insulin, counting and estimating carbs accurately is the goal,” she said.
While many diabetics will consider nutritional supplements, Polmanteer doesn’t usually recommend them. “Most people should be able to get all of their vitamins and minerals from food,” she said. “If you feel that your diet isn’t well balanced, you could take a daily multivitamin.”
Speaking on her own behalf, Coles said regular exercise is crucial for a long, healthy life with diabetes.
“Not only for its beneficial physical effects …equally importantly because of its psychological benefits,” she said. “Having diabetes can be a real downer, to understate it tremendously, so I believe we need to use all the tools at our disposal to maintain a hopeful and positive state of mind.”
Indeed, all the experts agreed that mental health is a necessity for people living with diabetes.
“I think recognizing the emotional and mental aspects of diabetes are just as important as the blood sugars, meal, and insulin aspects of diabetes management,” Hoskins said.
During the chat, the mother of a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago asked about the physical, emotional, and mental challenges that may possibly face her son.
Coles, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age three, said that from that age through to her early teens, it was important that her family made her condition feel as “normal” as possible:
“That we had a sense of humor about it. Not that diabetes is funny, but there are opportunities for humor and I think it’s important to seek them out,” she said. “As an adult with diabetes, now I get to figure out for myself what my relationship is to the condition. But having learned tools like humor, willpower, diligence, a recognition of the importance of my self-care, etc. as a kid, I think I’m well-prepared to make it a positive relationship.”
Hoskins and Kowalski, whose brother also has diabetes, added that having friends who “get it,” as well as a positive attitude, can make all the difference.
“My parents always told my brother and me, ‘You’ll do anything your friends do and more.’ We lived that,” Kowalski said.
JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Project is a multimillion-dollar initiative aimed at developing an automated, “closed loop” insulin-delivery system that mimics the functions of the pancreas for people with type-1 diabetes. It will ultimately save patients from having to constantly monitor their blood glucose levels.
Kowalski said that the studies are going well, and that research is moving from the hospital to “real-world” trials.
“One of the cool things we’ve seen is just how much it means for people to have a break from their diabetes management,” he said. “Better blood sugars and less burden. Our goal now is to see these systems get to people with diabetes ASAP.”