Diabetes affects an estimated 30.3 million people in the United States. Among those with the disease are several family members of “Black Panther” and “Us” actor Winston Duke.
“My grandmother passed away from diabetes complications, and I’ve lost two aunts, and an uncle, and multiple cousins to diabetes complications,” said Duke. “But [diabetes] isn’t actually a death sentence. While it can be a dichotomy with the disease, as it is very serious and can lead to consequences, as it did with my family, it can be managed with nutrition and exercise.
“Arming people with the tools necessary to combat diabetes is really important. Proper diet and exercise can really help.”
Managing a prediabetes diagnosis
Duke has prediabetes, which means his average blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to signify type 2 diabetes (T2D). The diagnosis changed the way Duke lives.
“I eat practically once every three hours to control my insulin levels. I work out regularly, and eat complex carbohydrates and foods with a low glycemic index,” Duke said. Those foods include whole grains, fruits, non-starchy veggies, and lean protein.
The hallmark of T2D is insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose (blood sugar), the body’s primary energy source, to the cells. Insulin resistance prevents glucose from reaching the cells, causing the pancreas to go into overdrive in producing insulin until it can no longer keep up. This process causes glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream.
Persistently elevated blood sugar can cause complications like the ones from which Duke’s family suffered, including nerve damage, blindness, kidney damage, stroke, and heart disease.
While genetics can play a role in insulin resistance and T2D, anyone with a family history of diabetes can help prevent complications with diet and exercise. But it all starts with a conversation.
“We need to change what the definition of ‘awareness’ is,” Duke said. “Raising awareness to families and social groups can be your platform. Letting family members know it is okay to have an open conversation. Within your own network, you can be a diabetes advocate.”
Experts agree that understanding how eating and exercise habits, along with ethnicity, play a role in diabetes risk is also key to diabetes prevention and management. For people of color, the risk for T2D and its related complications is higher than in white people, according to a 2014 article in Current Diabetes Reports.
Duke noted the importance of helping at-risk groups attain the resources they need to fend off this devastating disease. Indeed, people of color, on average, have less access to healthy foods and safe neighborhoods, which can present challenges in leading a healthy lifestyle.
“[Diabetes] isn’t as ‘sexy’ as other diseases. Just the idea that diabetes is the seventh-leading killer in the United States — that kills more people than HIV and cancer combined — is something not talked about, but is affecting almost 50 percent of Americans,” Duke said. “We need to give people access to better food and exercise facilities to be able to combat the disease, because when they are armed properly, it can change their outcome.”
Melinda Carter, [email protected]