Can diabetes shorten your lifespan?

Will diabetes shorten my life?

In the past the statistics about the shortened life expectancy of diabetics have been, to say the least, depressing. But now there's more upbeat news. For instance, since 1970 the death rate for diabetes has declined about 21 percent. The decline appears to be due to a decrease in cardiovascular deaths among diabetics. (About 60 to 70 percent of diabetics die of cardiovascular disease.)

The old estimate of life expectancy for diabetics was that, all things being equal, diabetes shortens a person's life by one third. Frankly, not only is this figure now outmoded by the above statistics, but we consider it far too drastic for an incontrol diabetic. But just for the sake of argument, let's accept it. What, then, does "all things being equal" mean? Our interpretation is that if you do not have diabetes and yet you live the way diabetics do you eat a perfectly balanced diet low in fats and sugar; you drink little or no alcohol; you do not smoke; you keep your weight slightly below normal; you get regular daily exercise and regular nightly sleep then you will live one third longer than a diabetic doing the same thing.

But let's face it. Without the incentive of a chronic health problem to make them follow such an optimum lifestyle, 99 people out of 100 won't do it. No, better make that 999,999 out of 1,000,000.
Now, let's say all things aren't equal. You don't have diabetes. You are overeating and eating all the wrong things overdrinking, oversmoking, and carousing around and never exercising, except possibly in occasional violent weekend spurts. Will all this shorten your life? Yes, very likely more than diabetes will.

We can't offer any guarantees, but as Dr. Michael CrorTord of Vanderbilt University pointed out at the 1980 ADA annual meeting, we already know that poorest control of diabetes is associated with highest risk of complications, while near perfect control is associated with the lowest risk. So if you follow the recommended diabetic lifestyle, keep your blood sugar in good control and your risks down, it is our unshakable belief that you can bring your span of years up to and even beyond that of the average person who is either unaware of the principles of good health or disinterested in following them. Like the Lord, diabetes giveth as well as taketh away.

A concrete testimonial to our theory is that over 500 people have been awarded the Fifty Year Duration of Diabetes medal by the Joslin Diabetes Foundation in Boston. The medal is given to people who have successfully lived fifty years or longer as insulin dependent diabetics. This is a considerable achievement, because many people who earn the medal got diabetes before insulin was available. This means their early years with diabetes were particularly dangerous and detrimental. These people are the true heroes and heroines of diabetes. And there would be many, many more medal winners except that the Joslin Foundation has such stringent requirements of complete medical records.

There is also a Quarter Century Victory Medal given for twenty five years of living with diabetes. It is awarded only to those who are "in superb condition," that is to say, totally free of complications (normal eyes, kidneys, blood pressure; no hardening of the arteries). Approximately 200 persons have received this medal.

Naturally, if you ignore your diabetes and the good health principles it requires you to follow, you can make all the depressing statistics come true. So the real question is, "Will i shorten my life?" And only you can answer that one by the way you follow the diabetic program of diet and exercise.


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