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When sugar is not so sweet: Diabetes during times of trouble

This Part 2 of a series on managing chronic disease during crises deals with the most abundant metabolic problem in the world:  Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes).  Over 8% of Americans have diabetes right now.  About a third have pre-diabetes, which means their blood sugar metabolism is messed up but not yet bad enough for a diagnosis.  And sad to say, a crises would kick some of those people teetering on the brink of diabetes right over the edge.  This article is about Type II diabetes, both because it’s far more common than Type I and there’s a lot more that’s useful to be said.

I am not a physician, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet, so this isn’t ME telling YOU how to handle your disease.  This is me, a person who has some professional knowledge of human body function and disease, making some observation from a prepper’s point of view.

First, Why Bother? Is taking care of diabetes, or avoiding developing it, worth worrying about when things are falling to pieces?  Yeah, unless falling apart faster is the goal.  Specifically:  If diabetes is not under control, blood sugar gets really high the person starts dumping sugar out in the urine.  Problem one, this wastes calories — a pretty serious problem among preppers who spend so much effort making sure they have enough food around.  Problem two, when sugar is dumped so is extra water, leading to dehydration.  That produces a need for more water intake (compounding the work of purification) and if intake isn’t increased enough, the risk goes up for heat stroke, low blood pressure, eventually coma and death.  

Additionally, in the short term both inappropriate blood glucose and dehydration degrade people’s function.  Fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness, irritability, fatigue and lack of energy, and related performance stealers are all common.

In the long term…no one wants to go there.  Even with treatment available to most people, diabetes mellitus is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness developing in adults, and non-trauma amputations.  It’s a giant promoter of heart attack and stroke, too.

As hard as being blind is at any time, do you suppose it’d be nicer during a crisis? Thanks to Lee McLaughlin* for the pic.

So what can you do about it if health care isn’t available?  First, keep track of your blood sugar.  It will probably not be ‘just like usual’, especially since stress responses increase blood sugar and make it harder for your body to use that sugar.  Isn’t it nice that you can check sugar now with those nifty, easy to use meters?  Isn’t it muck swill that those same meters require batteries?  They still make glucose test strips that don’t, fortunately.  You’ll also need an easy to use, clean way to draw the blood, such as a stock of lancets such as this.  Don’t forget the rubbing alcohol to sterilize the skin first and if you have fewer lancets than test strips you can keep them in alcohol to sanitize them too.  Pay attention to how you feel at different readings; your supply is not endless.

Color test strips are old school but effective. I’d store them somewhere cool.

These lancets are the companion to the color test strips. They sterilize with alcohol more easily than the disposable needles for mechanical finger prickers.

If you’re on medication, talk to your doc about laying in a bit of reserve.  Wanting to get a bit ahead because of travel and ‘life interruptions’ such as being on the road or stuck because of storms or whatever all all good reasons that don’t make the average person flip out. 

Don’t forget to rotate any reserve drugs; use the older and store the newer.

Also in the ‘prep phase’, you need to consider your diabetes when you lay in your food supplies. Refined carb products —  pasta, crackers, rice, potatoes, sugar — are both way cheap and naturally stable, so they figure very heavily in many prep food offerings.  

This bucket kit was better than average…they did have one dinner entree that was not based around rice or pasta.

So what’s to be done?  Whole grains are a very diabetic-friendly food.  Whole wheat by the pail will outlast the buyer (don’t forget the grinder).  Popcorn is cheap in bulk and lasts a long time too.  Dehydrated vegetables can be made at home for cheap or bought for not cheap.  (Dried squashes and tomato slices make a nice sub for chips when you’ve got a dip handy.  Dip you say?  Salsa mixed with canned re fried beans is dead easy and storable too.)  BEANS in any form are a winner.  Nuts and seeds are low carb, high in good quality fats, calorie dense, and fairly stable.

One of my last jars of zuke chips from last year; great with dip.

Do not underestimate the value of exercise.  Exercise lowers blood sugar directly, unsurprisingly, as your muscles use the stuff.  More importantly, it encourages your cells to use the sugar that is there, potentially reversing the core problem of Type II diabetes.  It also helps lower body fat.  Excess body fat promotes Type II diabetes; some folks lose the diabetes when they lose the weight.  (Sure, some types of emergencies may lead to weight loss like it or not; but inability to get food is not what a prepper’s going for, eh?)

Pro Tip:  Most of this stuff, including the food suggestions, exercise, and weight loss, do a great job of discouraging diabetes from developing in the first place.  People who were prediabetic but followed these kinds of suggestions were only about half as likely to progress to full-on diabetes, according to the CDC.  Wouldn’t it be much better not to have to worry about any of this in the first place?

* By Leemclaughlin (Lee McLaughlin) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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