Intensive treatment helps people with type 1 diabetes live longer

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cases of type 1 diabetes are increasing for reasons that aren't clear. It's the type in which the body doesn't produce any insulin. A major new study shows for the first time that intensive insulin therapy helps people live longer.

Reed Garrett checks his blood sugar 10 to 12 times a day. The Leawood man really watches what he eats. Grams matter. He adjusts his insulin pump accordingly. It's how he lives with type one diabetes.

"You have to be disciplined. You have to embrace the disease. It never goes away," said Garrett.

When he was diagnosed 52 years ago at age three, the tools didn't exist. But with them and discipline, he's had tight glucose control since the 1980s. The pay-off? Good health.

"I've had no complications," he said.

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the intensive treatment prolongs lives, too. People with tight glucose control were about a third less likely to die over about three decades compared to those without that control.

"I think it's very impressive considering they were only looking at intensive treatment over the initial six-and-a-half years of the observation period," said Dr. Mark Clements, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Yet Dr. Clements knows much still needs to be done to lengthen the lives of people with type one diabetes. Another new study in JAMA finds life expectancy is 11 years shorter for men and 13 years shorter for women compared to those without the disease.

"Just providing regimens like intensive insulin therapy to patients isn't enough...We need more research, more research dollars," he said.

Garrett says the shorter life expectancy doesn't worry him.

"My life is with diabetes. You just embrace it and you move on...I know I'm on the right path," he said.

Type one diabetes can happen at any age, but it's most often diagnosed in kids and young adults. Warning signs include extreme thirst and frequent urination. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has more information at this link.

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