Millions Don’t Know They Have Diabetes!

By Colette Nelson

Welcome to my new blog here at Digital Muscle!!! Let’s begin with a topic that far too many people dare to ignore…

You can’t escape diabetes. Approximately 477 million people worldwide have some form of the disease, and even more alarming is that currently in the United States approximately 17 million don’t even know that they have it.

Most people live in a place of denial on the subject: “I don’t have diabetes. It was just something I ate.” Well, of course—that’s why you woke up with a blood sugar count of over 115 mg/dl! (Anything greater than 100 mg/dl is high for resting blood sugar.)

As I’ve gotten more deeply into this field, I’ve learned much about the effects of diabetes and insulin on sports performance and building muscle and how some common practices can lead to problems. It’s my observation that many in the fitness industry are completely misinformed, practicing voodoo science.

My purpose here is to present some real information, answer some common questions, and dispel some myths. To get the conversation started, a few basic definitions are in order.

Diabetes is a group of diseases involving high glucose, or blood sugar, that are caused by the body’s inability to make or use insulin. There are several different classifications:

Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that attacks the beta cells, which are the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, making injected insulin a necessity to sustain life and normal blood glucose. Type 1 diabetics have an absolute deficiency of insulin. Type 1 was formerly known as juvenile diabetes, but we now know that it can occur at any age.

Type 2 was formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, but again the name has changed as we are now seeing it in our overweight sedentary children. Although the body is still producing insulin, its cells are resistant to the insulin, and so the glucose levels rise in the bloodstream. Type 2 is a progressive disease, and over time most patients will require insulin.

Type 1.5, also known as latent autoimmune diabetes in the adult (LADA), may not be as familiar as the others. It’s estimated that approximately 30 percent of people who have been diagnosed as type 2s actually fall into this category. They may show antibodies similar to those in type 1 patients but just not as aggressive. They are often started on oral meds when in fact they would do better on insulin treatment.


The differences between the diagnoses are quite significant. Types 1 and 1.5 are variations of an autoimmune disease, which means they are caused by antibodies that attack the organism producing them, while type 2 is more a disease of lifestyle and genetically inherited characteristics that make it more likely for certain people to be prone to insulin resistance. Type 1 is considered the most life-threatening variety, as it is an abrupt attack on the beta cells.

In the fitness industry I am seeing increasingly more incidences of type 1.5 diabetes. I make that diagnosis because these are athletes who exercise regularly, live a healthy lifestyle, and for the most part eat clean—not characteristics commonly associated with type 2. If you are of normal bodyweight, live an active lifestyle and are relatively healthy but have elevated blood sugar, you are likely in this category. Question your doctor if he or she tries to pass off your high blood glucose as type 2.

I also speculate that excessively high-carb “bulking diets” used in combination with growth hormone and other stimulants that aggravate blood sugar may affect the beta cells and their ability to regulate blood sugar. I see this as well with the onset of insulin resistance in the HIV population, where patients are taking high doses of growth hormone. In a similar vein, recent research has suggested that prednisone, a corticosteroid drug commonly prescribed for numerous uses, can predispose someone to diabetes.1 In other words, if genetics and autoimmunity are ruled out, certain drugs can cause beta-cell failure.

There’s plenty of misinformation around about insulin. For one thing, taking insulin does not cause diabetes—quite the opposite, in fact. If you have type 1.5 or even a longstanding case of type 2 diabetes, insulin should be the first medication administered. Scientists now recognize what they’re calling type 3 diabetes, which is proposed to be insulin resistance in the brain. Currently, researchers are conducting clinical trials in which they’re giving a basal, or long-acting, insulin to these patients to help improve brain function.

That may sound controversial; however, studies have revealed that giving insulin earlier in the disease’s course helps preserve the beta cells, allowing them to rest and recover from all the insulin resistance they’ve had to battle due to lifestyle, certain drugs, or diet.

Let me be clear, though: insulin is not to be taken lightly. True, it is one of the most anabolic hormones in the human body, but it can also be very dangerous if you do not know how to take it properly.

An increasing number of physique athletes from all the divisions have been coming to me regarding glucose problems. My first concern is that they do not appear like the typical type 2 diabetics I see in my practice as a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator; that is, they are not overweight and sedentary, with a high-carb, high-fat diet, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, and an overall poor lifestyle. Therefore, when I see a bodybuilder with a high fasting sugar, I am concerned.

So, if you have a high glucose level, don’t go into denial. Face it head on, and keep your eye on this space to find out what you need to do to regain control of your blood sugar.

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