Joslin expert: Mayor, others can cope with diabetes

With Mayor Thomas Menino’s recent type 2 diabetes diagnosis, Joslin Diabetes Center’s Dr. Osama Hamdy talked with the Gazette about what the common illness can mean for the mayor and for anyone.

Joslin is the world’s largest diabetes research center and one of the major institutions in the Longwood Medical Area.

“In his age category, 27 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes,” Hamdy told the Gazette. “It’s a very common disease… [But] this is not the end of the world. It can be managed very well. He can be extremely healthy,” Hamdy said.

Type 2 diabetes, while influenced by genetics, is mostly caused to weight gain and the body’s response to it. The body can slow or stop the production of the hormone insulin, or be less responsive to its effects following weight gain, Hamdy said.

Insulin is responsible for the body’s processing of sugar. When there is not enough insulin to deal with the sugar in the body, as happens with diabetes, the body eventually can suffer damage to blood vessels. That can cause blindness, heart disease and other problems that can lead to amputation, coma or death.

But diabetes is a fairly easy disease to live with, “with weight management and behavior modification,” Hamdy said.  “[The mayor’s] focus has to be on improving his lifestyle.”

“If a person loses weight at an early enough stage [of the disease], it could be well-controlled and even reversed,” Hamdy said. According to Hamdy, 58 percent of pre-diabetic patients reverse the effects of the disease by losing weight.

As far as Mayor Menino, Hamdy said he expects the mayor to pay attention to what he eats, increase his exercise, take his medications and pay attention to his blood-sugar level, a common precaution for diabetics.

“Like checking your mirror while you drive,” Hamdy explained.

Pre-diabetic symptoms include fatigue, frequent urination, frequently waking up at night, constant thirst, constant hunger and family history. If anyone shows these symptoms combined with either being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, they should visit their doctor, Hamdy said.

He recommended Joslin’s website,, for more in-depth diabetes information.

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