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Get tested for diabetes and be aware of common symptoms

Doug Snyder generally packs on a few extra pounds during the winter but he didn’t think that was a big problem until he was diagnosed five years ago with prediabetes.

A pair of blood sugar tests showed levels high enough for his doctor to warn him that if he didn’t change his ways, he could one day end up with Type 2 diabetes and, potentially, a host of health problems it can present: blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, heart disease, stroke, and loss of toes, feet or legs.

“I’d never thought about it,” said Snyder, 61, a Town of Tonawanda resident and senior manager of technical services at New Era Cap. “I have a pretty high metabolism and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted, and my weight pretty much stayed the same. As I found out, all of a sudden, I don’t know if my body became resistant to insulin or I started producing less, but my numbers started creeping up.”

Snyder had a predisposition to Type 2 diabetes, by far the most common form of the disease, because his father became diabetic in his 70s. But he has since also come to learn that lifestyle choices can turn many people toward the chronic, debilitating condition – and that he was smart to get tested during his annual physical.

March 24 used to be Alert Day to encourage Type 2 diabetes testing – but the growing incidence of the condition, and the 75th anniversary of the American Diabetes Association – has turned the event into a nearly monthlong awareness effort.

One in three American adults has prediabetes and only about one in 10 even know it, because it has no clear symptoms. Without a weight-loss plan and moderate physical activity, many of those with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within three years.

“People look at diabetes and they look at it as a nuisance disease, but it’s got really serious, life-threatening complications,” said Alexandra Murello, director of the American Diabetes Association of Buffalo.

Early symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination and a persistent thirsty feeling.

“People lose weight at first because they can’t retain calories they’re taking in. When their blood sugar is tested, it’s extremely high,” said Dr. Antoine Makdissi, an endocrinologist with the Endocrinology Center of Western New York in Amherst. He specializes in treating those with diabetes and metabolic illnesses.

“There’s a whole variety of genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes,” Makdissi said, “but the lack of exercise and a poor diet have been implicated as the No. 1 factor leading patients to developing prediabetes, and eventually diabetes.”

Here’s what you can do to prevent both, turn back prediabetes and limit the ravages if you already fall into the diabetic range:

1. Get a plan

“My advice to everybody is get your yearly physical,” Snyder said. “Let’s face it, most insurance policies will cover one even without the co-pay. The doctor’s going to order a fasting glucose level. Then you go from there. Otherwise, you might think you’re OK, but you might not be. There’s 30 million people out there with diabetes.”

A Diabetes Prevention Study showed that those with prediabetes can lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent by losing 7 percent of their body weight – about 15 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds – and exercising for 150 minutes a week.

Several hospitals, community health centers, medical groups and county health departments across the region are part of a National Diabetes Prevention Program, which uses lifestyle coaches, health education classes and group support meetings. Most programs are free. Talk to your doctor, see the bottom of the homepage at diabetes.org/buffalo, or see the Health and Wellness section of the WNY Refresh Calendar, which regularly lists the classes.

2. Eat right

Snyder credited his wife, Kathryn, for helping to get his blood sugar level back into the safe zone. “She’s a phenomenal cook,” he said. “We started doing research on glycemic levels of foods and carbohydrates. Anything like white bread and white pasta, we just don’t buy it anymore. Everything is whole grain, whole wheat. When you first start eating whole wheat pasta, it takes getting used to, but all of a sudden you appreciate the taste, and the texture.”

Family meals – which every Sunday include the couple’s three children and grandchildren – generally consist of a lean protein, whole grains and a vegetable. The couple eat a green, leafy salad five of seven nights a week, often spring mix and never iceberg lettuce, which has little nutritional value. They also became food label readers.

“When you’re shopping, you have to use your noodle,” Snyder said. “You just can’t go into the store and start throwing stuff in your cart.

“Regardless what you weigh, he added, “as soon as you start losing some weight, it really does start driving the blood sugar numbers down. And if you start exercising, that’s really helpful.”

3. Exercise

Snyder has become passionate about bike riding. He does a couple of 100-mile rides every year and bikes to and from work – a 16-mile round trip – as many days a week as possible. Only heavy rain or very slick roads keep him off mostly Delaware Avenue, either on his fixed-gear or mountain bikes.

“I try to push the season as late as I can,” he said. “I cycled well into December but this year has been brutal. There was a six-week period that I couldn’t get on the road, but the minute there was sunshine and it started getting reasonable, the last four weeks I’ve been back. I was out four out of five days last week.”

He already has gathered a team, and is looking for more bike riders, for the Buffalo Niagara Tour de Cure, which raises money for diabetes research and programs. It will be held June 6 in Niagara Falls.

“This is a cause I should be involved in,” Snyder said. “It’s a personal matter.”

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