TuDiabetes Live interview with Sarah Howard: environmental factors and diabetes


At age 32, while pregnant with my oldest child, I failed a glucose tolerance test. My blood glucose was so high that the nurse asked me, “Why aren’t you in a coma?” I felt like I should have been. I had none of the risk factors for gestational diabetes, and my blood glucose level was a perfect 90 a month before the pregnancy. But I required insulin, and the nurse told me I needed to inject it into my (very pregnant, very large) abdomen. This, it turns out, was flawed advice. But I will never forget giving myself that first shot of insulin, in tears, with my husband out of town. I couldn’t get all the air bubbles out of the syringe; would they kill me? How did the doctor know that 10 units wasn’t too much? Would I wake up in the morning? What if the needle punctured my uterus?

Six weeks after my (large, but healthy) baby was born, I failed another glucose tolerance test. The doctor said I had type 2 diabetes, and if I lost the weight I had gained while pregnant, it might improve. I lost weight– I’d do anything to avoid those needles– and my blood glucose went even higher. He tested me for autoantibodies, and the test was positive. I had type 1 diabetes. (Maybe someone will diagnose me with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults)– then I will have been diagnosed with four different types of diabetes, quite possibly a world record).

Seven years later, for the first time, I was happy that I had diabetes, of whatever type. My second child, at 23 months of age, was showing some symptoms of diabetes. My husband suggested checking his blood sugar, but I couldn’t bear to prick his little finger. After a week, we finally checked his blood sugar– “HI.” We went straight to the ER– “critically high.” It was almost 800. Thankfully I had seven years of practice dealing with this disease. He was on a pump within a month of diagnosis, and shortly after that a continuous glucose monitor.
I wondered, is there anything I can possibly do to prevent my older child from getting diabetes? He must be at some genetic risk, with two immediate family members who have type 1. I had heard that the incidence of type 1 diabetes was going up– was it really? Why? What causes type 1 diabetes? And then I discovered PubMed, where I could read zillions of studies on type 1 diabetes. I took up a new hobby, reading scientific studies. My website, Diabetes and the Environment, summarizes what I have found, and I intend to keep it up to date with new studies as they become available.

I began this research while sitting with my dad, a noted economist, when he was dying of cancer. He told me he had once heard that his type of cancer might be due to pesticide exposure. He said, “If this is because of something in the air, I’ll be p***ed.” It’s too late for him, but the health effects of environmental chemicals are certainly not limited to their potential role in diabetes. I focused on diabetes due to self-interest, my own interests, and because hardly anyone else was.

Category: Nonprofits & Activism
Uploaded by: Diabetes Hands Foundation
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