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A diabetes called LADA

By on January 25, 2021 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments
The author with a friend, both appearing to be thinking: “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here, right now.”

Her journey in discovering a disease hidden in plain sight

By Jacqueline Haskins

The mountains roll away in jagged waves, range after range. I feel like a raven, floating. 

This morning we crawled out of the tent into dark specked by a million stars. As we climbed up and up, threading boulders and slipping on scree, the stars slowly dissolved like cream into coffee. 

We turned off our headlamps and found our way from cairn to cairn by dawn glow. 

Now, at the top of Aasgard Pass, we turn to take in the view just as the first golden finger of sunlight touches the dark jewel of Colchuck Lake.  

A breeze tinged with wet granite and moss skims our cheeks, and we snug our wool hats tighter. 

My son fires up the little stove and makes us steaming drinks and a hot breakfast, as we watch the day being born.

I inhale the scent of his apple-cinnamon oatmeal, then stare glumly down into my own bowl, where dried cauliflower, crunchy yet oily, swirls in the hot water with wizened carrot strips like fossilized twigs. Huh, guess I should have cut those carrots smaller for the food dryer last week. 

I stir, I wait, I let them soak ’til the water is tepid, but still they go down like leather shoelaces. And that internet blogger who extolled cauliflower dried with oil and sprinkled with brewer’s yeast — it’s lucky for both of us she’s not here right now, that’s all I’m saying.

How did I end up here — not Aasgard, I mean this lumpy, greasy mess in my bowl? 

I was recently diagnosed with diabetes. And on that day, “What can I eat?” began running around inside my brain, squawking like Chicken Little. 

I’ve been searching for a backpacking breakfast that won’t make me go blind while having a heart attack with a side of stroke, and for dessert, my toes chopped off.

I’m ashamed to admit that until my own diagnosis hit me like a falling cartoon anvil, I knew little about diabetes and cared, sadly, less. 

I was not aware that diabetes was sweeping America like a tsunami, and striking the least privileged hardest. I didn’t know that diabetes was the most underdiagnosed disease in America. 

If I thought about diabetes at all, I assumed that my active lifestyle and healthful, largely plant-based diet protected me. Surprise!

I was struggling with an attitude adjustment that was bigger than this bowl of greasy cauliflower.

But good luck struck: twice more than I’ve been struck by lightning. 

First, I was diagnosed — by accident — very early. Second, a medical friend told me something my doctor had not: that there are more types of diabetes than I suspected. 

When I began to ask and advocate, a specialist ran tests. Now I have a disease whose name I always get to repeat, because no one has ever heard of it. A disease 3.4 million Americans share. 

I’m diabetic, but a different type. Knowing which type of diabetes makes an enormous difference, because different types have different causes. If you’re treating for the wrong type, you could be treating your foundation for termites when in fact it’s on fire.

My friend literally saved my life when she asked: “Has anyone talked to you about LADA diabetes?” 

“About wha-a-a-t?”


If you have 200 Facebook friends, odds are two of them have LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults)… and have no idea.

Many people know there is more than one type of diabetes, and have heard of T1 (type-1) and T2 (type-2). 

Diabetes is a spectrum along which many interacting causes — genetic, epigenetic, auto-immune, chemical exposures, childhood infections, diet, and lifestyle — produce diabetes: where blood sugars get funked up. 

T1 and T2 are at opposite ends, and in between are several other types, including LADA. 

LADA is as common as T1. Like T1, LADA is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases (like MS, Lupus, and some arthritis) are “friendly fire:” we mistake our own body for the enemy, and attack ourselves. 

T1s and LADAs are running out of insulin because our body mistakenly attacked our cells that make insulin. Most LADAs have lost three-quarters of our insulin-making cells when we are diagnosed, and for most the attack continues and we ultimately lose our ability to make insulin.

We produce the natural hormone insulin because it is crucial for digesting carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are in most food: not just gummy worms but also carrots and bananas; not just tortillas and whole wheat bread but also black beans and humus.

T2 is very different. T2s may have oodles of insulin, but their body can’t use insulin effectively. They have insulin resistance, which can often be reversed.

LADAs are variable. We’re all T1-ish, and some have handfuls of T2 tossed in also: insufficient insulin plus resistance, such a deal.

One in 10 of the 1.4 million Americans diagnosed each year as T2 are in fact LADA.

If you and your doctor suspect you may be LADA, a simple, insurance-covered blood-draw for GAD antibodies and C-peptide reveals the answer.

If you discover you are LADA, what will change? 

First, your doctor will immediately review your medications, because some medications, which are great for T2s, are harmful to LADAs, destroying our insulin-producing cells more quickly. 

Second, the answer to “what can I eat?” may change. 

Most food advice “for diabetics” is actually for T2s, who make up 80 percent of diabetics. While some of this advice is also helpful for LADAs, some is not. I’d been eating that way my whole adult life, and developed LADA.

For LADAs, healthful eating is about balancing carbs and insulin: either by reducing carbs, supplementing insulin, or both. 

And for all types of diabetics, staying active is one of our best medicines. 

If your T2 diagnosis doesn’t seem to fit in some way, for example you are lean when diagnosed, you may be LADA. Three million of us, hidden in plain sight, must educate and advocate for ourselves. Begin with a frank and friendly conversation with your doctor.

I sure made my own life harder, chasing Chicken Little in circles, clucking: “What can I eat?” 

There’s an answer to that question, but it’s not a sound bite. And for LADAs it differs in important ways from T2 advice. 

I’m so grateful to have stopped chasing that chicken, to have my groove back, and to still have all my toes. With correct diagnosis, early diagnosis, and the right information — some big ifs — this gets a whole lot easier. 

Whether your own journey goes by way of Aasgard, Zumba, paddleboarding, or playing with your puppy, remember that well-controlled diabetes is the leading cause of… nothing. 

On my latest backpack with my son, we rested on a ridge among Ladies Lakes. 

West rose the brilliant peaks of Glacier and Baker, and south, mysterious Rainier, framed by stunning wildflowers, while about our feet gamboled red-leaved alpine huckleberries: the most delicious manna on earth. 

May all our journeys be long, delectable and joyful.

Jacqueline Haskins can see the Enchantments from the strawbale house she built 25 years ago with family and friends. Jackie’s writing appears in The Iowa Review, Terrain, River Teeth, Raven Chronicles, and other publications, and in a forthcoming physician-reviewed book on LADA diabetes. She invites you to learn more at healthylada.com.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Mandi says:

    Thank you! This is such a great and informative read!

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