Tom Hanks and the Weighty Problem of Type 2 Diabetes
Actor Tom Hanks has revealed he has type 2 diabetes, a condition most often associated with being overweight and a poor lifestyle.
Promoting his new film, the sea piracy thriller Captain Phillips, the two-time Oscar winner told Letterman during an appearance on the Late Show this week that he had been aware of having high blood sugar for a lot of years and that now this has tipped over into diabetes:
“I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘You know those high blood-sugar numbers you’ve been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated! You’ve got Type 2 diabetes, young man.”
Despite media reports that Hanks partially blamed the extreme weight loss and weight gain he embarked on for a variety of roles, Hanks is on record as saying he doesn’t feel it was factor. However, he does believe that at the age of 57, this is a health wake up call.
Whether Hanks personally feels that his dramatic weight loss and weight gain played a role in his own diabetes diagnosis, weight does play a significant factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Here’s more about the illness and what can be done to prevent it.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
The CDC estimates that around 25.8 million people, or just over 8% of the U.S. population, have diabetes. Of them, roughly 18.8 million have been diagnosed, leaving around 7 million unaware that they have diabetes.
While type 1 diabetes means people cannot produce their own insulin to regulate their blood sugar, type 2 diabetes is characterized by the body not producing enough insulin or the body being incapable of making proper use of insulin — this is otherwise known as insulin resistance.
While type 1 diabetes can prompt the need for immediate medical care and lifelong medication, people with type 2 diabetes can go for many years unaware that they are diabetic.
There are, however, certain telling symptoms that may prompt further inquiry. Some are common to both types of diabetes while some are more closely associated with adult-onset type 2 diabetes. These symptoms include:
- feeling very thirsty a lot of the time
- needing to urinate more often
- feelings of tiredness and lethargy
- weight loss and muscle loss
- feeling extremely hungry
- sudden changes in vision
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- getting ill more than usual
Of the two, type 2 diabetes is classed as the less severe form, though it can still lead to health complications, particularly later on in life.
Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?
The risk factors for type 2 diabetes are numerous, but older age and family history play a role in determining the likelihood of developing type 2. Race and ethnicity also play a part with African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islands Americans more likely to develop type 2.
There are also a number of lifestyle risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, chiefly obesity.
As we all know, being overweight can prevent the body from creating insulin and using it effectively. It can also cause high blood pressure and is associated with higher cholesterol, both diabetes risk factors.
The good news is that in many cases, type 2 diabetes can be managed without medication. The bad news is, our old friends diet and exercise are the remedy.
Type 2 Diabetes: Prevention is Better than Cure
While there are a host of factors that might predispose someone to developing type 2 diabetes, there is also a strong body of evidence that suggests a healthy diet and regular exercise can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes from developing.
A federally funded study of 3,234 people who were considered high risk for developing diabetes demonstrated that undertaking moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more for 5 or more days per week could help prevent developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, studies have shown that simply walking briskly for 30 minutes every day can cut the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 30%.
Other particularly relevant, evidence backed, lifestyle recommendations for staving off type 2 diabetes include not smoking, ensuring a healthy diet rich in vegetables and whole grains, and reducing alcohol intake.
For the approximately 57 million Americans who are not yet diabetic but are in danger of developing diabetes, having so called “pre-diabetes,” the good news is that it’s not too late to start making these changes even at that late stage because doing so can still delay, and in some cases even prevent, type 2 diabetes.
Anyone 45 years or older might consider asking for a diabetes test, in particular if they are overweight or have other risk factors like a family history. This will allow a doctor to advise on blood sugar levels and make recommendations on any lifestyle changes that might be needed.