2010-12-30 / Front Page

Support Group Aids Diabetes Patients

Vigilance in Diet and Exercise Plays Critical Role, Local Educator Says
By Ted Booker

Carol Elmblad, diabetes education coordinator for Mackinac Straits Health System, leads a diabetes support group at Zion Lutheran Church in St. Ignace on the first Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. The group shares tips on eating and exercise and hears presentations from health experts. Carol Elmblad, diabetes education coordinator for Mackinac Straits Health System, leads a diabetes support group at Zion Lutheran Church in St. Ignace on the first Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. The group shares tips on eating and exercise and hears presentations from health experts. Educators say it all the time: Eat a healthy diet and exercise often. But for diabetics, actually carrying out that advice is crucial for their longterm health, says Carol Elmblad, diabetes education coordinator for Mackinac Straits Health System.

By sticking to proper eating habits and taking the initiative to exercise, she said, people with type-two diabetes can slow down, and sometimes even stop, the progression of the disease. To develop a good plan, however, diabetics first need to learn about their disease and the habits they can integrate into their lifestyles.

That's the goal of the diabetes support group in St. Ignace, which meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church. During each session, diabetics share tips with each other on how stay fit and hear presentations from health experts.

At a recent meeting, for example, group members exchanged tips on how they monitor their eating during the holidays, a time when cookies and sweets are in abundance.

“Those discussions can be the best asset for diabetics,” Mrs. Elmblad said. “It helps to be with people who are in the same shoes.”

Group member William Aalotalo, 75, of St. Ignace, started attending the group when he was diagnosed with type-two diabetes four years ago. Group discussions have helped him become more conscious about what he's eating, he said. About 10 members now attend the group.

“The big thing is, I was always a pretty heavy eater, and I learned that I had to cut my portions down,” he said. “If there was a choice between mashed potatoes or a roll, I had to take one or the other.”

Diabetics can never afford to take their disease lightly, Mr. Aalotalo said, explaining that many have heart problems if the disease progresses. Following a surgical procedure on his arteries, he still has to take pills and insulin to regulate his sugar level, but he said his health has greatly improved. He exercises on a treadmill and stair-step machine daily.

He encourages all diabetics of all ages in the community to at least check out the group.

“I now understand more about my disease, and I know that there's a whole lot of people I can go back to if I have a problem,” he said.

Most people Mrs. Elmblad sees have type-two diabetes. Diabetics with type two usually have abnormally high blood sugar because their pancreas is not producing enough insulin to transport glucose to the body's cells for energy, while for those with type-one, the pancreas has stopped working completely. Those with more serious cases take insulin shots and pills to compensate for the insulin deficit, while others monitor their blood sugar level daily to ensure it stays in a healthy range.

“Insulin actually helps transport the glucose out to the cells in the body to be used for energy,” she said. “Carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the digestive system and move into the blood stream, where they need the insulin to move out of the blood stream.”

Like most diseases, Mrs. Elmblad said, when diabetes isn't treated properly, it worsens. Similar to a water pipe that becomes clogged over time, when there's too much sugar in blood it becomes thicker, building up around the walls of arteries and lessening the flow in the circulain tory system.

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the country . Those with the disease have two to four times the chance of contracting heart disease or a stroke, and it's the leading cause of kidney failure. Statistics show 12,000 to 24,000 diabetics lose their sight each year, and 56,000 undergo leg and foot amputations.

About 8,000 people in Mackinac County have diabetes, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, and the disease affects men and women equally.

Most importantly, diabetics need to control their diets, Mrs. Elmblad said, explaining that obesity is often the main cause of the onset of diabetes. Avoiding extremes of eating too much or eating too little is critical, she said, and skipping meals is often the biggest problem among diabetics. Consistently eating three healthy meals a day, she said, is the best solution.

“If you're not eating enough, your body slows down because it's trying to conserve energy,” she explained.

Choosing foods from all levels of the food pyramid is vital to a healthy diet, she said, including carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

One of the most prevalent concerns she hears is the comparatively high cost of fresh produce. While eating foods such as pasta, bread, and potatoes is important, she said, “it needs to be in moderation. You need to make sure you're getting five servings of fruits and vegetables, too.”

She points to the example of a patient who began the program with very high blood sugar levels but was able to improve her health over six months of good nutrition and exercise.

Regular exercise is as important as proper diet, she said. She recommends 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Sometimes, though, incorporating even short exercise routines into one's daily schedule can make a difference.

“Some patients start out with five minutes a day,” she said, suggesting that even while watching television, “you can stand up and do leg raises, or you can lift light weights while you're sitting down.”

Other tips she suggests include walking around the grocery store once before getting a cart, parking farther away from the store to walk, and walking up staircases instead of choosing elevators.

The first step for a diabetic to improving long-term health is to receive medical treatment, she said. She recommends all diabetics to meet with a health professional or attend a support group. Often, Medicare and Medicaid plans will pay for professional treatment.

“You're dealing with your long-term health,” she said, stressing the importance for diabetics to take action. “I can't do it for them, but I can give them some tools to help. The more you know, the better off you are and the more you can handle it.”

For information about the diabetes support group, contact Carol Elmblad at 643-6192.

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