Thursday, November 5, 2015

Diabetes is a Lazy Pancreas' Disease

A patient advocate's job is never done, I guess. The other day this terrible article by a "certified wellness coach" appeared in my community newspaper. I won't get in to details, you can read that here. I will state that I was pretty horrified by the misrepresentation in it. She is very obviously not a medical professional, yet..she is giving medical advice.

Anyway, here is my response to the editor:

November is Diabetes Awareness month. I usually scan health and wellness sections of publications for articles raising awareness and spreading information about life with diabetes.

I was shocked when reading Michelle Maclean's article that was run recently about battling high blood sugar. There is a plethora of misinformation that can be damaging to advocacy efforts and to people living with the disease. 

In her article Michelle made a claim that 50% of adults are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. In fact that number is much, much lower. In 2010 Statistics Canada reported that 7.6% of the population was living with diabetes- this includes the MANY types: Type one, Type two, LADA, MODY, Gestational etc.While this number is expected to rise to the 10-12% area, it is certainly not 50%. 

There is a stat that 50% of Canadians are obese, however it is absolutely vital that we point out that obesity is not the only cause of any type of diabetes. Obesity is a known trigger for Type Two diabetes, especially in those who have mid-section obesity-but not all those who are obese get diabetes.

I understand Ms. Maclean's theory; eating less carbohydrates should lead to less insulin usage. However that is a very basic understanding of how your body excretes and uses insulin and is providing mis-information to the public. There are many people who eat the low-carb high fat diet who still require insulin, or medication for their diabetes.

Eating a balanced diet with lots of fiber, protein, healthy fats, vegetables etc is what is commonly recommended by medical professionals. To see someone claiming to be a nutrition counsellor recommending to skip breakfast in favour of a black coffee with fat added is shocking. The body's response to a healthy breakfast (as in put down the refined carbs, and pick up some eggs and veggies) is to ensure the metabolism stabilizes for the start of the day. You feel more full, you consume less refined carbohydrates throughout the day, you're better hydrated.. the list goes on. 

Let's be very clear: for a person living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, skipping breakfast in favour of black coffee with fat is dangerous. The hormonal spikes in the morning (other than insulin) need fuel for the day that can not be found in a cup of coffee.

Perhaps the most alarming and discerning bit of Ms. Maclean's article is that all of the diabetes and high blood glucose levels are reversible. This is simply, medically untrue. Diabetes is not reversible. If you have diabetes, it is a lifelong, chronic illness no matter how you treat it. It is a permanent hormonal imbalance. No amount of "intermittent fasting" or black coffee will fix this. The only way to control diabetes is with an excellent medical care team you can work with. Eat a balanced diet using foods that are as close to the original state as possible, move your body the way you enjoy the most. If you need insulin or other medications, do not feel guilty- you are taking care of your body. 

Diabetes and high glucose are very serious. To see a newspaper printing misinformation with no scientific back up is setting us back as a community. We are trying to cure the disease through funding the top research in the world. When this sort of information gets printed, people see the disease as the patient's fault and easily fixable.

Diabetes is not a lazy person's disease. It's a lazy pancreas' disease.
Diabetes is not "reversible"
And black coffee with butter does not a breakfast make-for anyone.


Alanna Swartz
Living with Type One Diabetes for 25 years
Patient Advocate


  1. Keep us posted if they reply. Your letter is excellent!

  2. This was really an interesting topic and I kinda agree with what you have mentioned here! Managing Diabetesfor improving health is crucial.