Alarm over Cutler's diabetes way off base

Published4/30/2009 12:01 AM

Some of the concerns and comments about how a couple drinks might affect Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his diabetes are well meaning, which is great.

Others, however, are ridiculous. One caller to a sports-talk radio show said his neighbor was diabetic and he could die if he had one beer. Not true.


The American Diabetes Association says a diabetic should ask three questions before having an alcoholic drink: Is my diabetes under control? Does my health care provider agree that I am free from health problems that alcohol can make worse (such as diabetic nerve damage or high blood pressure)? Do I know how alcohol can affect me and my diabetes?

If you can say "yes" to all three questions, the ADA says it's OK to have an occasional drink. It suggests no more than two a day, which is the same for those without diabetes.

Cutler has been here only short time, but indications are that he can take care of himself. He will check his blood sugar four times during a game. In his first visit to Halas Hall, he looked at botle of Gatorade but passed.

"I know exactly what that will do," he said.

There are 34 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce Gatorade, which might raise Cutler's blood sugar level from 100 to over 200 if not covered with insulin. Diabetics strive to maintain the same blood sugar levels as non-diabetics, ranging from around 80 (fasting) to 120 (non-fasting).

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Type 1 diabetes, which Cutler has, is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Cutler was diagnosed about a year ago, a couple weeks shy of his 25th birthday, after he had lost more than 30 pounds.

In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Type 1 diabetics receive insulin through several daily injections or, in some cases, via a pump that provides the necessary insulin to maintain normal blood sugars.

And that can be done even with moderate drinking. Diabetics with long-term uncontrolled blood sugar levels risk amputation, blindness and other health issues. Serious problems can be avoided with proper care.

"We tell our diabetic patients that, if they drink, to do so on a full stomach and monitor their blood sugar," said Dr. Maha Abboud, an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes and is an assistant professor at Loyola University. "It's a good idea to snack if you're drinking. When diabetics drink on an empty stomach, that's when they have trouble. But diabetes is not like cancer, where you either survive or you die. Diabetes is a disease you can live with, and you can lead a normal life."


And you can continue to be a Pro Bowl quarterback, which Cutler was last year, after he had a couple months to get a handle on his diabetes.

"People think that when you drink your blood sugar goes up, but it actually goes down," Dr. Abboud said. "That's why it's a good idea to snack if you're drinking."

And if Cutler is seen out on the town socializing this summer, it won't impede his performance in the fall.

"Not at all," Dr. Abboud said. "People are blowing this way out of proportion. Cut the guy some slack."

Cutler can take care of himself, but moderation is vital. If his drinking gets to the point where it adversely affects his performance on the field, that'll be far from his biggest problem.

I think he gets that.

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