Monday, April 11, 2011

Diabetes for Dummies

I have reviewed a lot of books in this blog over the past six years, touching on many genres and subjects:  fiction and non-fiction, history and theology, biographies and memoirs, business and investment strategies, nature and humor along with how-to books on the craft of writing and poetry.  Today, I’m breaking into the medical field.  A few months ago, I wouldn’t have given this book a second look, but after having spent the past two months reading everything I could get my hands on about diabetes, I decided that I would review the best overall book I found on the topic.  Interestingly, this book was given to me by a friend (who is also my eye doctor and, like me, has Type 1 diabetes).   Click here to read about me being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Even if you don't think you are interested in reading this book, at least read the first paragraph of my review and learn something new (or at least see how sick my mind can be).  

Alan L. Rubin, MD, Diabetes for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2004), 386 pages sprinkled with sidebars, graphs, drawings and symbols.

Diabetes has been around for a long time and was known to those in the Greek and Roman worlds.  The Latin name for the disease is diabetes mellitus.  Diabetes comes from the Greek word for siphon, referring to the way that liquid gets quickly siphoned through your body when you suffer from high sugar levels (the excess sugar causes the kidneys to quickly expel the water through the urine, as it tries to reduce the sugar levels in your blood).  Mellitus is the Latin word for sweet.  In the ancient world, diabetes was diagnosed by the sweetness of urine. (19)  I’m sure that back then, endocrinologists (the medical doctor trained to treat the pancreas) were not nearly in as of high esteem as they are today.  Can you imagine the spouse of Rome’s leading endocrinologist meeting as he comes home from the office with a kiss on the lips?  I didn’t think so.  

This book gives an overview of both type 1 diabetes (often called juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistant diabetes).   The author does a great job of explaining even the most obvious things and then goes into great detail for those (like me) who want to know more.  The book begins with a primer on how the body works and supplies energy to our cells.  The author discusses theories of how both types of diabetes develop as well as treatment for both.  In Type 1, insulin is the only option (the beta cells in the pancreas has stopped creating insulin).  Without insulin, the body is unable to feed itself and will soon begin to eat vital organs for food and overload the kidneys with sugars.  In type 2, the body has become resistant to insulin, so it takes more and more insulin to move the glucose (sugar) to the cells.  This type of diabetes can often be controlled with weight loss, diet and exercise as well as medicines that helps make the insulin more effective.  Only when these strategies are unable to control the symptoms is insulin used.   

Chapter Four deals with short-term complications for diabetics; the fifth chapter deals with long term complications.  Reading these two chapters was eye-opening and horrifying.   Being dependent on insulin means that, at times, you take too much or don’t eat enough and you drop your blood sugars to a dangerously low level (hypoglycemia) which can result in a coma and the inability to care for oneself.   On the other hand, not enough insulin results in high blood sugar (hypoglycemia).  High blood sugars can even lead to ketoacidosis (blood becoming acidic), a dangerous situation as your body is using fat for energy and making even more sugar (which it can’t use due to the lack of insulin).  Another short-term complication is hyperosmolar syndrome (extremely high blood sugars) that is often caused by loss of bodily fluids and can also led to a coma.  If the short-term complications weren’t enough, the long-term ones are even scarier: kidney diseases, problems with the eyes, nerves, heart, arteries, and feet along with issues relating to sexual performance and pregnancy (I skimmed the pages on pregnancy)…

Just when I was thinking about shooting myself and avoiding the potential problems, the author begins discussing the treatment options.  Luckily, there are ways to manage diabetes and he goes into get detail of how to monitor your conditions (I get to prick myself 4 or 5 times a day) as well as drugs that work with diabetes.  With type 1, the main drug is insulin.  He discusses how, if one follows the recommendation of living with diabetes, the dangers he covered in the previous chapters can be avoided and one can live as healthy of a life as one without the disease (or perhaps even a healthier life as you have to watch food and exercise is more important than ever).    He also covers potential new treatments for the disease, debunks many myths about the disease and ends the book with a “mini-recipe book” featuring food from top restaurants around the country.

If you are dealing with diabetes, this book is invaluable.    


  1. I can only imagine how this has changed your life. I remember when my father-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes - tough times. It sounds as if you are dealing very well with it.

    p.s. The "dummies" books are usually pretty good - I have Public Relations for Dummies proudly displayed with my other PR books in my home office. :)

  2. It's wonderful how time and history has moved us to this point of "self-help" and knowledge.
    My kids and I are studying the History of Medicine by John Tiner at present, and the horror stories that brought us to where we are's just nice to live in today;)
    (And Nope....wouldn't be kissing my man after a day at the office:)

  3. I happen to have a client who was diagnosed as insulin dependent some 30 years ago. He's now 80. You'll do fine.

    Cheers, my friend.

  4. Lynn, this is my first "dummy" book and I was impressed with how much information is packed in it.

    Dawn, yes times had changed... if this was before the 1920s and the develop of insulin, I'd be on my death bed.

    Randall, that sounds good--as I'm in my early 50s.

  5. I'm glad there are some good treatments for the problem. I have a friend who has been controlling his very well for quite a few years now and it doesn't seem to have slowed him down.

  6. Yep I am type two...tried the oral meds for 5 years and it was always ever increasing doses and more and more pills...nothing worked for control until I got tested, the old pancreas was functioning fine but I still needed to inject. Some days up to 200 units a day.

    I will say this if you can afford it get the sticker where you can get blood from places other than your gets harder and herder to get a draw through the callouses that build up. I use one finger until I can't get blood from it any more then go to work on another by the time I have calloused the fourth finger the first is ready for use again.

  7. My Dad was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was in his 30s. He lived a decent, healthy life into his mid-70s and died of an unrelated cause 27 years ago, this month. Management of the condition is better understood and easier to put into practice, these days. Your take-charge attitude and healthy lifestyle will work for you.

  8. Welcome back! I have been kind of a fan on a few dummy books, really....they tell it straight as a rule. I'm thinking about you these days with this new part of life, and how it will effect your up coming worldly tour....but you are right about options..I work with a young girl 25 years old who has a form of diabetes herself, although you would never guess it, because she has a set program and sticks to it! This is such a great post and excellent learning source....take care of you, Sage!

  9. Ahhhhh SUGAR-- Oh Honey Honey---you are my candy ----wait--I shouldn't sing this to you!

    Great summary!!!


  10. If anybody can learn to live with it and thrive it's you Sage. I have total faith. Amazing how books we never would have looked at become compelling reading when we're diagnosed with something or wonder if we will be :0

  11. Thanks Sage ... i've got type II but will probably still find it good to have a copy. if I exercised and ate like my cardiologist keeps insisting I'd be much better. You'll do well.

  12. Sage: Your message is one of Hope and Healing and I commend you for your Courage and Caring for others who will stop by and read this post. Well done!

  13. Charles, I'm trying not to let it slow me down, but I got to find a good source for insulin in Vietnam!

    Walking Guy, I keep going to a different finger (and use both hands). 200 units is a lot a day, I probably average 35-40

    Hilary, thanks for sharing about your dad... but he must have had you very late in life as he'd be at the century mark now.

    Karen, this is my first Dummy book (or at least the first with such a label) and I was impressed.

    John, Diabetic or not, I don't want YOU to sing that song to me for MANY REASONS! :)

    THanks Pia, I'll get through it and this is just another thing to learn more about...

    SleepyHead: I'd ask you to go running this afternoon but my ankle is sore from basketball last night! Listen to your doc!

    Michael, thanks for your positive words. I do hope someone will get some benefit from this review.

  14. "Hilary, thanks for sharing about your dad... but he must have had you very late in life..."

    Sure.. we'll go with that. ;)

    He was in his early 40s :)

  15. I would have skipped the 4 and 5th chapter...