Why die with diabetes?

Why should I have to live with diabetes?

That wasn’t the first question I asked when my doctor diagnosed that I had Type 1 diabetes. No, that was, ‘is there a cure?’

When he said, ‘no, you’ll have to live with it,’ that’s when I hit him with the second question.

I tuned out his answer when I realised it was a standard patter he gave every one of his customers, all those people before and now and to come who would guarantee the quality of his lifestyle on the strength (or should it be, weakness) of their illness.

People with type 2 diabetes are prescribed exercise, diet and medicine. The medicine, nine times out of ten, will be metformin or Glucophage, to give it its branded identity.

Diabetes, we are told, is a killer disease. Isn’t it ironic then that same drug on whom an increasing number of people around the world are dependent, is now being considered as a possible link to the secret of life and the end of death?

In Ireland, diabetes is considered a ‘long term illness’, i.e. no cure in sight and most likely, not even in contemplation. All my diabetes related medicines are free. Or, in other words, paid for by the State, the taxpayer. For 37 years, the first thing I do when I wake up is test my blood sugar level. Then I jab myself with two needles, a process I repeat at least three times a day.

If you had a free pass to a bottomless ATM, would you give it up? Diabetes is the access code to that ATM as the pharmaceutical industry found out a long time ago.

But now in this age of intelligent machines and the growing desire among some people to tackle the biggest disease of all – death.

The Longevity Fund is an American think tank and research facility dedicated to the death of death. There are pharmaceutical companies and medical research facilities trying to find cures for cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but why, the Longevity Fund might argue, don’t they seek to halt the degeneration of human cells and take death off the agenda, entirely?

Most of the time, if you read the promotional material, death doesn’t even get a mention. They prefer to spin it more positively and call it the extension of life. Laura Deming, a New Zealand born MIT alumni who now leads research at the Longevity Fund, prefers to use the phrase ‘reversing the ageing process.’

That’s where metformin comes in. It prevents the excess release of sugars  into the bloodstream and slows, as a result, the turnover of cells. According to worldhealth.net, Metformin may promote anti-ageing,

To analyze the advantage outside treatment of diabetes, the Food and Drug Administration has green-lighted a clinical trial in the U.S. for what has become known as the Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME) study. The researchers will give Metformin to about 3,000 elderly people, who either suffer from or have a high risk of developing diseases like cancer, heart disease, or cognitive problems. They’ll then track them over six years to see if the drug prevents aging-related diseases that were not pre-exsisting. They’ll also be looking to see if it prevents diabetes and lengthens their life spans. It will be a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

So maybe my question should’ve been, why do I have to die with diabetes?

Who eats iron?


Everyone absorbs iron in their diet. Some of us can’t get rid of it as easily as others. Are there do’s and don’t, a special diet, forbidden horrors? Simple answer: no, no and no.

Present a medical condition that has something to do with diet and all the crazies come out of the woodwork. Iron absorption is a natural function of the human body. In people with hemochromatosis, it just happens to hang around. That iron is absorbed through your diet but it doesn’t follow that a decrease in iron in your diet will, necessarily, decrease iron deposits in hemochromatosis.

All food groups have iron and we only absorb a small fraction of that iron. There is some speculation that the iron we absorb is of the heme variety, as opposed to the non-heme, but that research is inconclusive. There is another theory that a defect in hepcidin, a circulating peptide produced by the liver, is the defect in hemochromatosis that causes greater intestinal absorption of iron. Heme iron is more prevalent in red meat and vegetarians have lower serum ferritin levels and so the dots get joined and two and two can become five.




Iron supplements in food were introduced as a marketing gimmick in the 1950s and that’s about all it amounted to, a gimmick. Ok, don’t eat raw shellfish, not because of the amount of iron they do or do not contain, but more usefully because of other bacteria.

The one that really gets me going, though, is the assertion that cast iron pots could kill you. Well, I agree, if you want to swing a 12″ skillet at someone’s head. Those are heavy suckers. But absorbing killer levels of iron from a well seasoned skillet? Codswallop.

Look, the way I see it, is if you eat sensibly, you’re fine. Don’t take health supplements with concentrated iron and go easy on the vitamin c, particularly around meal time, as it facilitates the absorption of iron.

As a diabetic, my diet has always been based on three principles; low fat, no sugar, high fibre. Add plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit in to the mix along with a judicious balance of grains and nuts and you’re on a winner. Just because you have a condition with an iron overload doesn’t mean if you eat less iron, it will help you. Your body will still need iron and it will, if you’re eating a good, balanced diet, find it, too. The problem for people like us is getting rid of the excess, once the body has used what it needs.

I like to eat fish, particularly hake and mackerel. Coffee, I’m told, should be avoided but hell, Starbucks notwithstanding, I enjoy a sup of java. At the same time, a good friend of mine turned me on to Japanese Matcha tea that has a high tannin level, is an anti-oxidant and can lessen, if not entirely prevent, the absorption of dietary iron. And apart from anything else, a good cup of Matcha a day can get you involved in some wonderful tea making ritual.

Alcohol? ok, we should all drink less and yes, there is iron in beer and spirits, though a glass of wine is not to be sneezed at. I’m sure this has ruffled a few feathers but I don’t like fad food fascists. Eat sensibly and not in excess, you’ll be fine.

Please don’t take what you’ve read here as the gospel, according to how to behave with hemochromatosis. I’ve got my own problems to deal with and that involves staying healthy by eating as sensibly as I can. All I do is write about it.