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The Spectre of Diabetes

October 18, 2011

Thanks to genetics, I’m at risk for a few things I’d really rather never get: breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Alzheimer’s scares me the most (’cause I can cut off my breasts if I absolutely have too, and you can control blood sugar with medicine now, thanks to some enterprising Canucks, but there’s no treatment for getting swiss-cheese brain), but it’s most likely that, thanks to having naturally low blood sugar AND having a genetic predisposition towards it, I might get diabetes.

Both my Grandmother and Grandfather on my Father’s side had diabetes. They were careful to monitor their blood sugar every day and not eat too much sugary food, although we all made jokes about Grandma keeping a stash of cookies, or what have you, despite all our best efforts. One of my strongest memories of my Grandfather when he was dying (NOT from diabetes; that was just a fun* complication) was how his feet were this awful, swollen, purple color as he lay in his hospital bed, the sheets startlingly bright against the bruised grapes of his toes. That was because of the diabetes.

I already have abnormally low blood sugar most of the time. I’m not exactly hypoglocemic, but I’m close. If I don’t eat every 4-5 hours, I get cranky and headache-y, I can’t concentrate, and eventually my hands start shaking and I get really tired and/or dizzy. This evening has been a fun little experiment in dizziness that came on suddenly as my roomie and I were taking a drive downtown to the Occupy Nanaimo site. It took nearly three hours to shake and I have no idea what caused it. Honestly, I’m terrified of being diabetic. A lifelong condition that I have to monitor DAILY? Several times a day? Monitoring every bite so that I don’t make myself super-sick? DO NOT WANT.  So, I’m careful not to tax my pancreas by messing with my blood sugar and I try to stay fairly active, which helps to keep my whole body functioning as it can. Other than that, though, there isn’t anything I can DO to prevent the disease. Oh, some of you skeptics out there might be saying “But Jen! You’re fat! Just shed some pounds!” Um, no. That would be the OPPOSITE of helping.

Being a fat lady may actually help protect me from getting diabetes. That’s right, being fat can be a positive, protective force. Aside from the soft and squishy awesomeness that is the human body, and the hugging, cuddling and overall happy, good, fun times, it turns out that being fat can help you not get sick. And if you do get sick, fat can help you get better faster. It’s called The Obesity Paradox and it’s definitely worth looking into. For now, I’m going to grab some protein and give my eyes a rest from monitors and screens.

*By fun I mean fun like watching your beloved pet get run over by an asshole teenager in a fancy car.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Amynomene permalink
    October 18, 2011 12:38 pm

    Thank you for posting that link to the Obesity Paradox. I had read some of that before, but it was scattered.

    Also, I wanted to say thank you to all the writers here. I just began reading this blog about two weeks ago, and already, I have learned so much. I feel like this influx of “think again” information and positive attitudes from you all is beginning to heal something within me. This place is awesome!

    • October 18, 2011 1:28 pm

      Thanks for the kind words about our blog, Amynomene, and welcome to Fierce Fatties. I’m glad we’ve been able to open your mind on the underlying issues of obesity and health, and I look forward to your comments and contributions.


  2. October 18, 2011 1:27 pm

    Living in the genetic age, it’s terrifying to know that what killed or incapacitated our parents and grandparents is just lying in wait for us. I’ve got heart disease, colo-rectal cancer and Alzheimer’s (if I survive the first two). But at least we can attempt to lessen the impact by focusing on behaviors that may delay their onset.

    I’m interested in reading more research that points to an obesity paradox in diabetes. I find the “paradoxes” intriguing.


  3. October 18, 2011 2:06 pm

    I ❤ paradoxes. We hear all the time that being fat will KILL! YOU! But at the same time, being fat can be protective in certain health-related cases. Junkfood Science was awesome for pointing out the paradoxes but I don't think she's writing anymore.

    Amy: Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

  4. vesta44 permalink
    October 18, 2011 3:11 pm

    Here’s another paradox for you, courtesy of Dr Arya Sharma, type 2 diabetics with a BMI over 30 experience less foot amputation than those with a BMI of 25 or less, and those with a BMI of 40 or more experience up to 50% less amputation than thinner type 2 diabetics.

    While the researchers do not offer any plausible reasons for this paradox, it is another remarkable finding that suggest that while being obese may increase your risk for many chronic diseases (including diabetes), once you have them, being obese may actually not be all that bad for you (at least compared to being skinny).

    Dr Sharma says: “Go figure.”
    Obesity paradox indeed.

  5. October 18, 2011 4:19 pm

    My father had the same purple, swollen legs prior to his death but his was from congestive heart failure. His side of the family has vascular problems, my mother’s has diabetes (joy) but also some strokes. Again, joy. I developed mild hypertension at the age of 46, a few months after my father died. His CHF came on a couple of years after he had a hemorrhagic stroke. He’d had undiagnosed hypertension, atherosclerosis, and spinal stenosis, all of which seemed to feed off each other in various ways.
    My father had several spinal injuries when he was younger and one major head injury that doctors didn’t know if he’d wake up from.
    When he had the stroke, he was 68 years old. He was six foot four and 225 pounds, which is NOT obese. So much for the obesity connection with strokes and heart disease. He died in a severely handicapped condition at the age of 74.
    Meanwhile, my mythological (maternal) great grandmother, who weighed 300 pounds, was healthy until she reached 79, when she was fairly quickly killed by acute myeloid leukemia–a disease which has no obesity correlation and came out of nowhere. There isn’t a lot of cancer on either side of my family. She did not have diabetes or heart disease or any of the other “fat people” diseases. My grandmother (her daughter) did develop type II diabetes. She was “normal” weight. She was an alcoholic, and I don’t know how much this might have contributed to her developing diabetes. Her pancreas and liver were both shot at the time of her death.
    (For those who haven’t seen me comment on this before, I refer to my great grandmother as mythological because supposedly there are no old fat people.)

  6. October 18, 2011 6:27 pm

    I’m good on the cancer and diabetes side- no predecessor were stricken with those for as far back as we know. I inherited the paradox BP of the maternal side of the family though (goes down after/during strenuous activity and tends to drive doctors mad), and the non-existent thyroid function which may or may not cause more complications as I age. Joy.

    Alzheimer’s and dementia are both serious threats (mostly because my ancestors seem to be really long-lived no matter their weight, there hasn’t been one not killed in a war that didn’t reach 80 since the early 1900s), and the ones I’m most afraid of because there is nothing you can do (except end it quickly), and by the time you realize you’re truly losing your mind it might be too late.

    Oh yeah, I shouldn’t forget one of the main reasons I’m obsessively monitoring my calcium/Vitamin D/F intake and going crazy with sports: Rheumatoid arthritis, which runs rampant in every single female in the family and tends to start early (mid-thirties early). I’m also pretty much very afraid of not being able to even sit without pain when I’m not injured, which is why I’m reading as much as I can and try to employ as many preventative measures as my schedule allows.

    *g* My family also has our own obesity paradox. Obese grandma=less rheuma/arthritis than thin grandma. Whoopsie!

    • October 19, 2011 1:26 am

      I have a weird thyroid–sometimes it reads normal, often it reads mildly low, but my pituitary also reads weird. I need to ask to be tested for Cushing’s because I have some suspicions that I may have it. I can’t take thyroxine–it shoots my blood pressure through the roof. Since I already have problems with that, I don’t want to go there!
      I think the thing these fat haters just don’t get is that we’re all going to die someday and AGING causes most of these problems that they like to correlate with size. Not that anyone should be hating on the elderly, but jeez, wake up, people!

  7. MrsS permalink
    October 20, 2011 7:09 am

    Jenincanada, you said: “So, I’m careful not to tax my pancreas by messing with my blood sugar and I try to stay fairly active, which helps to keep my whole body functioning as it can.”

    I understand that you don’t want to lose weight and I can understand your reluctance to see a doctor. However, your 3-hour experience sounds frightening, so I hope that you can monitor your blood sugar in some way.

    • jenincanada permalink
      October 20, 2011 10:56 am

      Ya, since writing this post my blood sugar has been pretty wonky and I’m not sure why. An apple and a hot chocolate shouldn’t give me a sugar crash so bad that I get off kilter at work. Thanks for the great comments, everyone, and I’ll keep you posted!

  8. Emerald permalink
    October 20, 2011 4:32 pm

    My dad had a couple of Type 2 diabetic brothers – the only two now left alive out of seven (all fat) siblings, and one of them has Alzheimer’s, poor guy. My dad himself died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which I’m told can be genetic but which his doctors said was most likely down to him having done agricultural work involving now-banned pesticides. He was diagnosed in his fifties and survived fifteen years in reasonable health for someone with that particular cancer, and his doctors said it was probably him being ‘a big chap’ than enabled him to survive that long. I’m not sure what the grandparents on that side died of, but they both lived well into their 80s.

    On my mother’s side, one uncle died in WWII, my mother’s sister had a stroke, and my mother herself had a final stroke after a series of mini-strokes in her late 70s, but she also had Parkinson’s. While she was still compos mentis, she used to insist that I would also probably develop Parkinson’s one day, but that was part of her issue about ‘you must be exactly like me’ (although she also used to insist I would definitely get diabetes ‘and end up like your aunt’ – my dad’s sister, whose build I very much take after, who was not T2 and had a whole other tragic story around what killed her in the end). And the last surviving brother, after a lifetime of being incredibly fit and active, is now developing Alzheimer’s. Everyone on that side of the family is thin, BTW. Those grandparents, again, lived into their 80s, but I don’t know what either of them died of. My maternal grandmother is especially frustrating; she spent some years of her life confined to bed, but nobody knows exactly what with because they ‘never talked about anything like that’.

    My major concern is the cardiovascular stuff; I have been diagnosed with high BP on and off, and I’ve had a couple of (purely visual) migraines, which according to various authorities may or may not be signs of CV trouble. I try to do the stuff I know I should be doing – oats, oily fish, fruit and veg – could be doing more on the physical activity. Genetics is a complicated thing, and any one of us could be blindsided by something that hasn’t ever appeared in the family before. Working with information on cancer patients, I realize that ‘risk factors’ are just that, and that even with a strong family history you often can’t predict what will affect whom.

  9. jenincanada permalink
    October 20, 2011 6:54 pm

    Thanks for that, Emerald! (Love the handle, btw. ^__^ )

    • Emerald permalink
      October 22, 2011 3:55 pm

      It’s Emerald as in the Emerald City – Seattle, not Oz. I want to live in Seattle, which isn’t that easy if you’re British. We’re working on it…

      • LittleBigGirl permalink
        March 29, 2012 11:09 pm

        Look forward to your coming here! 😉

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