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What it’s like to be Diabetic and Celiac

Sam Boem, 20-year-old Humber College student, said that having low blood sugar feels like something not uncommon to what many of us experience during college.

“It’s hard to explain, but I compare it to being drunk.” said Boem. “Because it’s the exact same feeling. The spacey, numbness feeling of not knowing exactly what’s going on.”

But when describing what high blood sugar is like, Boem tells a very different story.

“Last September, I went out for drinks with a couple of my friends, and the next morning I felt very sick and I couldn’t figure out why,” said Boem. “The day after that, I was throwing up. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t speak.”

Boem was going in and out of consciousness. Her friends took her to the hospital where doctors diagnosed her symptoms of excessive dehydration and extremely high blood sugar.

“And then I was in the hospital for 36 hours, being pumped with six different IVs, including potassium, which burns your veins at a very high speed,” said Boem. “I had ghost pain for two days afterwards and they had to wrap my arms in ice packs. I was crying because it hurt so bad.”

This is just a glimpse into her reality. When she was 11, Boem was diagnosed with type-one diabetes and Celiac disease.

“It’s very common [to be diabetic and celiac] because it’s on the same genome,” says Boem, “but I don’t normally meet a lot of diabetics who are also celiac.”

People with celiac disease make up one per cent of the world-wide population. Celiac intolerance numbers can also range as people can develop the condition. In 2017, over seven per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older were documented as diabetic.

While both are lifelong conditions, they are manageable with proper diet and exercise. Research from Diabetes Canada has found that a Mediterranean diet can help diabetics to maintain their blood sugar levels.

Balancing diabetic needs with dietary restrictions can be a challenge, but it’s necessary for Boem’s well-being.

The Emerge web team sat down with Boem and talked about how she accommodates her conditions with her eating habits. Here are three of Boem’s favourite meals:

MEAL ONE:

Fish with Rice and Veggies

Salmon

Rice

Roasted Vegetables (Zucchini)

MEAL TWO:

Stir-fry

Chicken

Garlic

Onions

Carrots

Broccoli

Edamame

Rice or Rice Noodles

MEAL THREE:

Sweet Potato Stirfry

Sweet Potato

Kale

Chickpea

Feta Cheese

Egg

plate of food with green beans, carrots, and corn
Photo credit: Ariel Deustchmann

Diabetes:

Diabetes is a condition that results from the failure of the body to produce or manage insulin. It can develop from pancreatic-failure, which is called type one, or from ill health, labelled type two diabetes. Individuals with type-one diabetes require supplied insulin for life, but they have more flexibility with their eating habits.

People with type-two diabetes have to regulate their diet and exercise, but also have the chance to overcome the condition.

Some symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination with the inability to quench thirst, blurred vision, weight change, slow-healing cuts or bruises, re-occurring infections and numbness in the hands or feet.

Besides symptoms, there are multiple different risk factors when it comes to developing type-two diabetes besides genetics and obesity. Some of the factors include smoking, a history of high-blood pressure and having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Ethnicity is another factor to consider for developing diabetes. People of African, Latin, Asian and Indigenous descent are at higher risk of developing this condition.

Does this list have you worried? A doctor can run some tests for diabetes that include testing blood or someone’s glucose (sugar) intolerance after drinking something sugary.

When it comes to diagnosing diabetes, the number of type-one cases in children ages 12 and up has increased in Ontario. According to Stats Canada, this puts the province above the national average by eight per cent.

And there’s more bad news if you’re male. Statistics Canada found that men were more likely to report having type two diabetes as they aged than women.

Besides eating a variety of healthy foods, Diabetes Canada also recommends 150 minutes of exercise two to three times per week, and getting the eyes, legs, kidney and feet examined annually.

Celiac:

While talking about her celiac condition, Boem describes the discomfort caused when she eats gluten.

“It affects the finger-like sensors in your intestine, it basically flattens them, so you don’t absorb nutrients,” said Boem. “Because it’s flattening those finger-like things, it causes you to be extremely bloated and it also causes you to have extreme stomach-like pains that are incredibly horrid.”

According to the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA), 80 per cent of celiac cases in Canada are undiagnosed due to misdiagnosing the lesser-known signs. 

Atypical signs include anemia, bone issues, liver disorders, neurological problems, reproductive issues and short stature in children. The CCA advises observing short-statured children, as celiac is a hereditary disease which can be passed from first and second relatives. Right now, there is no known cure for celiac, but the best way to treat it is to manage the disease by following a gluten-free diet.

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