Let‘s Keep on Track for Our Best Future
Deborah Dormady Letham, PhD

Let‘s Keep on Track for Our Best Future

Given my family history of diabetes, stress-eating is not an option, even during a pandemic

These are stressful times, but I’ve tried to keep up with my healthy eating and walking habits. Significantly, I did not start baking yummy desserts until just recently. Why? Diabetes.

Stress-eating affects many of us, including me, but I know there is NO reason that I (or we) have to trigger factors for a known disease because of fear or boredom or wanting comfort. The concerns of spreading SARS-CoV-2 that keep us huddled at home might be a good excuse for reading a good book or watching the latest movie—even researching blogs—but it is NOT an excuse for indulging in poor eating habits.

I take many precautions but I cannot predict if I will personally catch SARS-2-CoV, and I don’t know how severe a potential COVID19 infection would be for me. We have many unknowns – but in my typical American family with a sedentary lifestyle, the chances of us coming down with diabetes and heart disease is a KNOWN. Unless I eat right and exercise, it is just a matter of time. There are different types, but 34.2 million Americans (that’s 10% WOW!) have diabetes according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Diabetes Association. Over 20% of that 34.2 million are undiagnosed!

Here is an alarming statistic: in 2017, diabetes was listed as an underlying cause of 83,564 deaths and a contributing cause of 270,702 deaths in the US alone. The seventh leading cause of death. WOW!

Awareness and monitoring one’s own health are key. Medications for pre-diabetics are available, and the new advances for pain-free monitoring are amazing. Last month, my friend stopped the project he was working on and said it was time to get something to eat. He pointed at his phone which displayed his blood sugar number. I was intrigued and very confused because his phone display actually monitored his sugar. Then he showed me a small quarter-sized disk adhered to his upper arm. He touched his phone to it, and a display of his blood sugar level flashed on the screen. WOW – if that isn’t “better living through chemistry”, I don’t know what is! This friend managed his diabetes with food, but told me that these smart devices could also talk to an insulin pump, which many now have. The cost of the equipment is not negligible, but knowing the convenience and improved health, this method of monitoring seemed priceless to me.

Insulin is a life-saver for many who monitor their sugar levels. Producing it is no small feat, purifying it is a laborious process from animal pancreases, especially fetal pigs. In the 1970’s scientists were starting to understand the power of recombinant DNA technology and had to overcome hurdles in regulations and public opinion to use gene-splicing techniques for laboratory production of human insulin. Otherwise called genetic engineering, the DNA sequences for human insulin-making genes were placed into known laboratory strains of bacterial and yeast cell lines, then grown in fermenter tank-sized scale-up cultures. With the supply of animal-produced insulin dwindling, this major applied science came in the nick of time to a country and world seeing increasing demand. The approval for this process was the fastest in FDA history at the time, May to October of 1982.

In 2001, I had gestational diabetes while pregnant with my daughter. My grandmother entered a nursing home the year I was born, and lost a leg to diabetes complications. So many of my family members are affected by what is thought to be a preventable illness.

How can I keep from reaching insulin-dependency when I grow older? Healthy eating, moderate exercise and monitoring my health. Sounds like a good focus rather than a chore. As I reach for my sneakers for my morning walk, I appreciate the work of scientists who study and teach. I would stress that we can do something about stress-eating, even during these difficult days. Diabetes does not have to be our future.