​​​Miriam E.Tucker

Dealing With Diabetes
(Letter to the Editor, The Washington Post, March 28, 1996)

Two diabetes-related items in the March 14 Post require comment.
In the Reuter wire story about a new treatment using transplanted pancreatic islet cells and bone marrow, the statement that this is a "possible cure for a disease that kills 162,000 Americans every year" is misleading. The death figure is correct, but islet-cell transplants won't help 95 percent of the 16 million diabetic Americans. 
There are two types of diabetes. Type I, or insulin-dependent diabetes, usually appears in young people. The body's autoimmune system destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin. A successful islet-cell transplant would, indeed, represent an exciting advance for these people. But only about 500,000 Americans have Type I diabetes.
The rest have Type II, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Most are adults. Transplants won't help them because their pancreases still make insulin, but their bodies don't use insulin properly--a condition called "insulin resistance." Some type II diabetics take insulin, but they are not dependent on it for life.  New drugs can help these patients control their blood sugar better, but a cure is probably a long way off.
"No More Gravy Train; Metro Gets Tough With Sneaky Snackers" [Metro, March 14] reported that the Metro snack police ticketed a diabetic man who "showed no visible symptoms of hypoglycemia."  

The experience of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) varies greatly from one diabetic to another.  Some display obvious symptoms, such as sweating or shaking, as soon as their blood sugar drops below normal.  Others, like me, can feel "hypo" long before any outward signs appear.  Even my close friends usually don't know when I'm "low" unless I tell them.
If I were to delay eating until my symptoms became evident to Metro officials, I'd need a lot more than a snack--I'd need a stretcher. ###