Diabetes Can't Give Patti LaBelle the Blues
Showtime! The house lights dim, the audience falls silent, and a moment later, rhythm and blues star Patti LaBelle booms into the microphone: "Are you ready to burn the house down?"
As you watch this two-time Grammy winner strut her stuff, it's hard to believe she struggles with type 2 diabetes.
But it's true. The famed performer, now 66, woke up one morning in 1994 to the sobering news that she had a chronic illness. She would have to manage it successfully, she learned, if she hoped to remain one of our leading pop idols.
Patti LaBelle says she "got the message, loud and clear."
Soon after her family doctor diagnosed her diabetes, the best-selling creator of such hits as On My Own and Burnin' set about changing her lifestyle to "get a handle" on the disease that could have ended her career.
"I realized that if I wanted to regain control of my health, I had to eat right, exercise and maintain a healthy weight," LaBelle says. "I lost 15 pounds within a year or so, and I completely changed my attitude toward food.
"Diabetes is no joke. It's a silent killer, which means that you have to keep after it every single day. For me, that means exercising daily for at least half an hour, and it means watching every single bite I take, in order to cut down on fats and sugar and keep my weight under control.
"You know, until I was diagnosed with diabetes, I used to go out on 3 a.m. cheesesteak runs as often as I went on tour," she says. "Hey, I'm from Philly, the home of the ultimate cheesesteak!"
Born Patricia Holt in May 1944, LaBelle learned how to hit the high notes while she sang in the city's Beulah Baptist Church choir in the 1950s.
And she learned fast. Blessed with a ton of talent and enough energy to light up Yankee Stadium, she shot to success as the leader of a popular 1960s girl group, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. In the 1970s, she launched an all-female group, LaBelle, that won raves on tours of the nation.
LaBelle recently released her 50th album, Timeless Journey. In a career that spans more than 40 years, she has branched out into movies (A Soldier's Story), TV specials and books, with best-sellers including Patti's Pearls: Lessons In Living and Patti LaBelle's Lite Cuisine. She's also won many music and public service awards.
But LaBelle has seen her share of tragedy. Three of her sisters died of cancer in their early 40s, and her mother died of diabetes complications at age 58.
"It broke my heart to lose my mother so early," says LaBelle. "But at least I was able to learn something important from her death. I learned to take diabetes seriously. And I learned that I have to manage my illness carefully in order to go on making my music.
"These days, I'm enjoying my life and my career more than ever. And my health message is always the same. If you suspect you might be developing the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, see your doctor immediately for testing and diagnosis.
"Then, if you do have diabetes, educate yourself and start managing your illness. Lose weight, exercise and watch your diet. Life is too wonderful to waste it on being sick."
How to spot type 2 diabetes
Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes, according to 2007 statistics from the CDC. Up to 95 percent of them have type 2 diabetes, which often develops in middle age. The key to early detection, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is knowing risk factors and symptoms.
Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, who can't make the hormone insulin needed to metabolize sugar, people with type 2 diabetes gradually lose the ability to use insulin effectively or don’t make enough insulin. Some of those with type 2 will need oral medication, insulin shots, inhaled insulin, or other medications at some point.
"There's no doubt that type 2 diabetes is increasing rapidly in the United States today," says Seattle diabetes researcher Robert Mecklenburg, M.D. Type 2 diabetes "is closely linked to obesity and lack of exercise, and patients can often slow down its effects." This type of diabetes also is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents.
The key to early detection, says the NIDDK, is knowing risk factors and symptoms.
Risk factors for adults
These are the risk factors for adults without obvious symptoms of type 2 diabetes:
Being overweight or obese (a body mass index of 25 or higher)
Age 45 or older
Exercising fewer than three times a week
Parent, brother or sister with type 2 diabetes
Belonging to one of these ethnic groups: African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American/Latino
A history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds
High blood pressure (140/90 or higher)
An HDL cholesterol level of 35 or lower, or a triglyceride level of 250 or higher
At least one previous blood sugar test that was high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes
Having a vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on artery walls)
Risk factors for children
The major risk factor for children developing type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. A child is overweight when he or she has a BMI greater than the 85th percentile for his or her age and sex; or a weight-for-height greater than the 85th percentile; or weight greater than 120 percent of ideal for height. The American Diabetes Association, in 2005, recommended that overweight or obese children be screened for type 2 diabetes if they have any two of these other risk factors:
Parent, brother or sister with type 2 diabetes.
Belonging to one of these ethnic groups: African-American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic American/Latino.
Acanthosis nigricans. This are velvety, light-brown-to-black markings usually on the neck, under the arms, or in the groin.
High blood pressure. Blood pressure evaluation in children is based on their age, gender, and height. Talk with your health care provider to learn what is a normal blood pressure for your child.
Dyslipidemia. This means abnormal cholesterol levels: a total cholesterol of 200 or more, an LDL cholesterol of 130 or more, an HDL cholesterol of 35 or lower, or triglycerides higher than 150 mg/dL.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome. This is a condition in which there is an imbalance in a girl’s hormone levels, causing a variety of symptoms.
Screening should be started at the age of 10, or whenever your child reaches puberty, if that's younger than 10.
Type 2 diabetes often has no symptoms or symptoms so mild that you might not notice them. These are symptoms:
Being very thirsty
Frequently feeling very hungry or tired
Losing weight without trying
Sores that heal slowly
Dry, itchy skin
Losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet
Having blurry eyesight
If you have symptoms or risk factors for type 2 diabetes, talk with your health care provider to find out if you should have a screening test for diabetes.