“It was January 23rd, 2002. I had been dehydrated for two days now. I was weary and confused, but other than that, I was a healthy, active 23 year-old. But that morning, I woke up slowly, crawled to the bathroom, and vomited. Breaking out into a cold sweat, I dragged myself to my parent’s room.”
So started Marianne Szeto’s story on how she discovered she was diabetic.
A Series on Diabetes & Asian Americans
This is the first in a 3-part series on Asian Americans and diabetes appearing for the next two Mondays. I’ll start with the findings of a recent study. The next part will go deeper into the story of Marianne Szeto, a diabetic with a unique twist. The series will end with an interview with Marianne.
Trends in the Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in Asians Versus Whites
The American Diabetes Association recently published a study in Diabetes Care entitled, “Trends in the Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in Asians Versus Whites“. Their conclusion:
Compared with their white counterparts, Asian Americans have a significantly higher risk for type 2 diabetes, despite having substantially lower BMI.
From 1997 to 2008, diabetes rates for Asian Americans rose to 8 percent, as opposed to just 6 percent among whites.
These findings are in line with previous studies showing a higher rate of juvenile diabetes in Asian Americans and gestational diabetes in Asian American couples with at least one Asian American partner.
Also, according to the a list of statistics on diabetes published by Ohio State University Medical Center:
African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders may share a “thrifty gene” left over from their ancestors, which enabled them to survive during “feast and famine” cycles. However, with those cycles phasing out, that same gene may make a person more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.
What does this mean? Despite the fact that Asian Americans are less likely to be overweight, our genetic evolution is partly to blame.
But only partly. The other part is lifestyle. “Asians may be even more susceptible to unhealthy food and related weight gain,” says Hsin-Chieh “Jessica” Yeh, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. Such as, perhaps, instant ramen noodles? Reuters Health explains:
Studies have shown that even though Asian adults tend to weigh less than white and black adults, they often have a higher percentage of fat surrounding their abdominal organs. This so-called “visceral” fat is particularly linked to the risk of type 2 diabetes.
It’s also a lack of exercise. Asian American boys have the lowest sports participation rate. And Asian American girls? The second lowest.
In other words, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and a genetic predisposition appear to be the culprits in the increase of type 2 diabetes among Asian Americans.
Diabetes Prevention and Management
Those with a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes may be able to delay, or possibly prevent, the disease’s onset with a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic.
- Healthy foods, especially those high in fiber and low in fat. Some also recommend low glycemic foods, though its effectiveness has not yet been proven with certainty.
Once type 2 diabetes has set in, both exercise and healthy foods are essential. For Asian Americans, that means cutting down on fried fatty foods. You know what I’m talking about. Sichuan crispy beef, pad thai, samosas, dim sum. The key is to educate yourself on your diet and watch what you eat.
Other forms of management are also available:
- Medication, for some cases, may also be helpful. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections, while type 2 diabetes can be aided by several groups of drugs, such as sulfonylureas, nonsulfonylurea secretagogues, alpha glucosidase inhibitors, and thiazolidinediones.
- Surgery, specifically a gastric bypass, has been found to aid a few type 2 diabetics.
There are many online tools to help with diabetes as well.
In the next part of this 3-part series, you’ll read about how Marianne Szeto is dealing with being a diabetic, and how she’s turning it sexy and fashionable.