Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Biology is not destiny

I got a disturbing telephone call today that I am, frankly, still processing.  It was my father (who I will dub "the Patriarch" for the purposes of this blog), telling me that he had recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, with a blood sugar of 9 mmol/L (normal is up to 5.5 mmol/L). 

Not only that, but he had been diagnosed with pre-diabetes last year, and told that if he did not lose weight and change his diet, he would be at high risk to get - wait for it - Type II diabetes.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess which lifestyle he chose.

Now those of you who read this blog know that I do not have diabetes myself, but I still test my fasting blood sugar every morning because the Matriarch and virtually everyone on my mother's side of the family is a Type II diabetic.  With them it's not necessarily weight related, either, as my mother was diagnosed as a diabetic when she weighed 115 pounds (she's 5'2"). 

With a family history like mine, it was almost inevitable that I would be at a high risk of getting diabetes, and sure enough, when I first tested myself last July, the numbers were high.  Not high enough to be in the diabetic, thank god, but high enough to put me in the pre-diabetic range.  Since the treatment for pre-diabetes is simply to lose weight and reduce carbs, I was already doing exactly what I needed to do.  Still, I regarded those fasting blood sugar readings as a wake up call, and extra reinforcement (if I ever needed any) that I had to stay on my program of working out 6 days a week and eating healthy every day.

This news from the Patriarch has, I confess, thrown me for a loop.  I knew the Matriarch's family history was dismal, but I always assumed, down deep in my heart, that the Patriarch's side of the family would keep me relatively healthy.  And to a degree, this is the case.  Where my mother's family has a history of high blood pressure, I have normal blood pressure.  Where my mother's family has high cholesterol, I have always had normal cholesterol.  These are gifts from my father's side of the family, and I have appreciated them - - especially when I see what my mom goes through with her health issues.

But now, both sides of my family history have Type II diabetes.  I suddenly went from a high risk to a stupidly high risk.  It's almost as if my family is trying to kill me, at least endochrinologically (which I know is not a word). 

The ray of hope in my future is the fact that, unlike the Patriarch, I took the pre-diabetes warning to heart, and worked at changing my lifestyle.  Where he did not exercise, I regularly exercise, at a high intensity.  Where he drinks Coke and eats potato chips, I drink tea and water and eat almonds and low fat cheese and vegetables and fish. 

And my efforts have been paying off, slowly but surely.  My sugars back in July were averaging 6.3 mmol/L (where 7.0 or greater is diabetic).  Last month they were averaging 5.7 mmol/L - - almost in the normal range.  This month is a little hinky, but then, so was October (I suspect this is not the smooth linear improvement I would hope for, but rather a herky-jerky decrease in fits and starts).  As long as the overall trends are in the right direction, and I am continuing to get at least some normal readings each month, I'm happy. 

I am still obese (Class I), so it's natural that my sugars would still be elevated.  Eventually, however, I am going to get to be 'merely' overweight, and within 35 pounds of my goal - - I think we'll see a step-change improvement in the numbers at that point.

For now, however, I need to be confident that just because both my father and my mother have Type II diabetes (<gnashes teeth>), it doesn't mean that I will inevitably get diabetes.  Sure, I think we can all agree that if I stopped working out and went back to my old eating habits, I would be certain to get diabetes sooner rather than later.  But as it stands now, with my diet and active lifestyle, I just don't see my future as written in stone like that.  I think the future - - at least as regards to diabetes - - is mine to write, and I want to write a story that involves normal fasting blood sugar levels.  It's a matter of time, but I know I can get there, family history be damned.

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