FAIRBANKS — The incidence of diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate nationwide, and Alaska is no exception.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2010 in the United States nearly 26 million people had diabetes. They are of all ages, races and backgrounds with 1.9 million new cases diagnosed in that year alone.
The American Diabetes Association in Alaska reports that 68,500 Alaskans are diabetic.
Alaska, like the 49 other states, also has experienced an increase in the prevalence of diabetes. The upsurge, according to Alaska Division of Public Health, is notably higher with people age 45 and older.
The fact that people are living longer with diabetes because of better management also gives rise to the current numbers. However, a 2011 CDC study projects that if current trends continue, as many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.
The CDC also estimates that 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, where blood sugar is higher than normal but not enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. The condition not only puts them at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes but also increases their risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
Although insulin treatment for diabetes was discovered by a Canadian doctor almost a century ago, in 1921, a cure still hasn’t been found.
However, diabetes care and prevention strategies have improved immensely over time as research scientists continue to search for a cure.
And there is hope. With lifestyle changes, pre-diabetics and Type 2 diabetics can return their blood sugar levels to normal with some weight loss, healthy eating and increased physical activity.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a perfect time to think about whether you might be diabetic.
Fairbanks resident Diana Campbell, 54, is an example of how diabetes can be successfully battled.
The mother of three had experienced gestational diabetes during her second and third pregnancies, putting her at a 40 percent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in her lifetime. She was 36 when she was diagnosed.
Four years ago, Campbell was morbidly obese and taking nine pills a day to control high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
In addition to her Alaska Native heritage, there was some family history of diabetes.
“I hated having a chronic disease. I hated thinking about it; it was exhausting,” Campbell said.
Unsuccessful at losing weight on her own, she began contemplating a gastric bypass.
“I watched my aunt die of diabetes. It was horrible and that was another reason to have a gastric bypass,” she said.
The turning point for Campbell came when her doctor started talking about putting her on insulin.
Campbell underwent a successful gastric bypass surgery, and she has since turned her lifestyle around.
“Within one month after the surgery, I was off the high cholesterol and high blood pressure medicine and after six months I was off the diabetes medicine and the diabetes went into remission,” she said.
Campbell’s new lifestyle wasn’t without some ups and downs, and it took about a year of trial and error before she got used to eating the right foods at the right times.
“I watch what I eat. I eat more protein and less carbs and use portion control,” she explained.
Campbell found that educating herself on all aspects of diabetes, avoiding stress and taking better care of herself helped smooth out the bumps in her recovery.
Diabetes support facilities and support groups lend helping hands in Fairbanks and the Interior.
Two diabetes centers are located in Fairbanks.
Fairbanks Diabetes Center, under the auspices of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, is located in the Medical Dental Arts Building on Lathrop Street. The Diabetes Program, specifically designed for Alaska Natives, is located across the street in the new Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center.
Both diabetes centers see people with pre-diabetes and diabetes and treat people for Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes referred by physicians. Staff members include nurses, with specialized diabetes certification, and dietitians.
The centers focus on diabetes and pre-diabetes education, dealing with the emotional impact that often accompanies a diabetes diagnosis, and providing support and counsel on balancing lifestyles.
“We help people learn how to live with diabetes successfully, said Julie Way, Diabetes Center coordinator. “Anyone with diabetes sees a dietitian every visit for help with weight loss management or other nutrition problems.”
Whether pre-diabetic or diabetic, the importance of self care can’t be overemphasized to reduce long-term complications.
“Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness between ages 20 and 64,” said Claire Banks, CAIHC Diabetes Program coordinator. “If you keep your blood sugar down and in control, then you can prevent some of the complications from occurring, such as eye disease, kidney disease, and neuropathy (peripheral nerve damage).”
“Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet where portions are small and exercising (moderately) most days of the week can prevent diabetes by 55 percent,” she said.
A CDC study shows that the incidence of adult diabetes is higher among racial and ethnic minorities: 16.1 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives; 12.6 percent for blacks, 11.8 percent for Hispanics, 8.4 percent for Asian-Americans, and 7.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites.
Diabetes rates are higher for Americans aged 65 and older. Half have pre-diabetes, and nearly 27 percent have diabetes.
In Alaska and elsewhere, diabetes takes a big bite out of state health care costs for the percentage of the population it serves.
Unless there is a dramatic change to healthy lifestyles, state health studies forecast that the prevalence of diabetes in adults in Alaska will continue to climb due to the increasing rise of obesity and physical inactivity and the state’s aging population.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes means your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. Your blood carries the glucose to all the cells in your body.
The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which it releases into the blood to help glucose get into cells. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood. Too much glucose in the blood causes pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Diabetes can cause serious health complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs in childhood or young adulthood when the body stops making insulin, so the individual requires insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes occurs in adults and children when there is not enough insulin produced and the body does not use the insulin effectively to control the blood sugar.
Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after delivery.
Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when the blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes.
Signs of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be severe, very mild or none at all, depending on how high blood sugars are.
• Increased thirst
• Increased hunger
• Fatigue (feeling very tired most of the time)
• Increased urination
• Weight loss
• Blurred vision
• A blood test to check your blood sugar will show if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
• Eating a healthy variety of foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, non-fat dairy, healthy fats, lean or substitute meats in moderate portions.
• Getting physically active on a daily basis.
• Weight loss to improve blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
• Learning all you can about diabetes.
• Regular health visits.
Local diabetes health centers
Fairbanks Diabetes Center
Medical Dental Arts Building
1919 Lathrop St., Suite 122; 458-6400
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center
1717 Cowles St.; 451-6682
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
On the web
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services:
Local diabetes information and support groups
American Diabetes Association in Alaska
(907) 272-1424 or (888) 342-2383
Adult Diabetes Support Group
Meets monthly at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital
Call 458-6400 for information
Family Link for Type 1 Diabetes
Call 458-6400 for information
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.