If you have diabetes or if you know someone who has diabetes, get your hands on a great little book, “Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes.” It is written by Richard Jackson, MD, a doctor at the world-famous Joslin Diabetes Center, and Amy Tenderich, a professional journalist who also happens to have diabetes (check out her website: www.DiabetesMine.com).
5 numbers to know
This book points out that there are five essential tests everyone with diabetes should have:
- Hemoglobin A1c (often just called A1c). This is a measure of the average blood glucose levels over the previous two to three months
- Blood pressure
- A full lipid profile is not just a total cholesterol, but a full panel that determines LDL, HDL (often called good cholesterol), and triglycerides (blood fats that go up after we eat)
- Microalbumin is a test of whether diabetes has cause kidney damage
- A retinal eye exam to assess whether there is any evidence of eye damage
The authors explain what these tests mean and how often you should get them. What I particularly like is that they stress that you need to be the owner of these numbers:
“These numbers belong to you, and knowing them is your right, as well as critical to your health—just like the numbers in your bank account.”
They even give you advice on how to get your hands on these numbers:
“It is your right to request them, so don’t feel intimidated about speaking up… A call to the office should suffice…” but they recommend, “make the call at a time when you have some other paperwork to do and use a speakerphone so that you don’t get too frustrated trying to get through or waiting on the line.” It seems like they may have had some first-hand experience calling doctors’ offices.
Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once
There is a chart in the book that the authors titled, “Your Diabetes Health Account.” Using it, you can compare your numbers to the certain targets in order to determine how well you are doing. For example, if all of your numbers are at optimal targets, you can see that you have five “bags of money” in your diabetes account. These are your health assets. If your tests are past due or way out of whack, then you have health debts which should be paid off as soon as you can. By taking a close look at your diabetes health account, you can pinpoint your focus on what you need to do to get your health account back in balance.
They counsel, “Rather than depressing you, knowing your priorities should boost your confidence; you have learned exactly which health factors are most important for you right now and which may not need attention on an everyday basis.”
Once you learned your numbers and assessed your diabetes health account, it is time to take action. The book provides strategies for how to improve every one of the five essential factors. The tips provided are practical but detailed enough to help even a novice diabetes self-manager get started.
The first part of the book lays out the strategies for improvement and the second part dives deeper into the diabetes toolkit they are helping you prepare. Advice on diet and exercise are clear and easy to follow. For example, one strategy for portion control, an important element of a weight loss diet, is to share a meal. Pretty simple, huh? Or you can divide your food before you start to eat and have it put into a “doggie bag” before it automatically goes into your mouth to end up around your middle. Avoid buffets. We all know we eat too much at buffets…it is simply too easy to pile it on the plate.
Other good information
There are chapters on diabetes drugs and diabetes devices as well as information about low and high blood sugar. The chapters are well laid out with important information placed in boxes.
Sprinkled through the book are stories of real people living with diabetes, like Loretta, a kindly grandmother with type 2 diabetes who lost weight and brought her hemoglobin A1c into control, or Marci, a “high-powered New York City account executive” who enlisted her husband to help her deal with “diabetes frustration”.
Yeah, I know, some of you hate the “empowerment” word. But that is what this book sets out to do. It arms you with information. It helps you understand your particular needs and challenges. And it provides guidance on how to go, one step at a time, from where you are now to where you want to be in terms of diabetes health.
So, there you go. If you have diabetes, if someone you care about has diabetes, or if you are a health professional working with people with diabetes, then buy (and read) this book. You will be glad you did.