National Diabetes Month & Diabetes in Native Communities
Diabetes probably affects someone in your life, but what do you really know about it? Well, heads up. Diabetes affects 423 million people worldwide, including about 30 million Americans and 1 in 10 women, and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. A very serious disease, some learn to cope with diabetes, while others are less able to cope physically or financially.
Split into two categories, Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin, and Type 2 is characterized by the body’s ineffective use of insulin, without which the body cannot properly absorb sugar and low blood sugar (or hyperglycemia) can occur. Health issues related to blood sugar, blood pressure, and even poor healing of extremities can occur from diabetes.
Why bring up these facts on diabetes now? November is National Diabetes Month and diabetes affects some of those close to me. Remember that 423 million affected? Well, diabetes among Native Americans is twice as likely as it is for whites. And why is this?
I’ve personally heard a couple of different reasons. One is “artificial” or processed sugars, or more specifically, the rapid introduction of processed sugar into Native diets during colonization. Some say that our bodies were unable to quickly adjust to this type of sugar and became overly sensitized to it, while also becoming desensitized to the naturally-occurring insulin our bodies had always used. A second reason is the introduction of commodity foods to relocated tribes. Historically, commodity foods were heavy in sugar and carbohydrates, cheap ingredients so distributing them makes financial sense — but the families reliant on commodities were often predisposed to diabetes.
My father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2001. I remember when he used to collapse due to blood pressure issues, and a specific instance when he was hospitalized because of it. In his own words, “It took me 14 years to do anything about it. One day I just realized that if I didn’t start managing my diabetes a lot better, I wouldn’t live to be very old… One day I just woke up and said, ‘I can do better.’” Since then, my father has improved his dietary choices, exercise, and regimen of medication. With the 3 critical aspects of diet, exercise, and medication, his diabetes has been much more manageable since 2015.
This month, PWNA applauds the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases for raising awareness of diabetes and its impact on school-age youth under 20. PWNA also applauds its reservation program partners who work tirelessly toward diabetes prevention, such as the Special Diabetes Program at Sells Indian Hospital, the Ohkay Owingeh Wellness and Diabetes Program, and the Acoma Diabetes Program to name a few.
High carb foods, high sugar foods, and highly-processed foods all contribute to diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle only worsens the condition. While many might see the disease as crippling, it doesn’t have to be. Type 2 diabetes is preventable and can be managed with small steps and mindfulness, whether that is walking a mile a day, having fewer desserts, or choosing healthy foods and gardening to ensure your diet includes fresh produce. If you or someone you know is suffering from diabetes, take heed that you can manage it, and that diabetes can kill. As my father reminds me, “I can remember some friends that, after these 14 years, aren’t around anymore” due to diabetic complications.