Belonging to Our Culture: Diabetes Support Groups

Patient Expert

Once we have diabetes we are even more isolated from our culture than most people. This makes finding a solution more difficult for us, but we have a way out.

People around the world are fast losing their cultural ties, as I wrote in my most recent articles here, "The Breakdown of Indigenous Culture and the Rise of Diabetes" and "The Breakdown of Mainstream Culture and the Rise of Diabetes."

Most of us are becoming more separated from our cultural roots. As a result we are losing our sense of community, because community and culture go together.

  • Diabetes is a symptom

The diabetes that we have is a symptom, says Richard Oster, senior research coordinator with the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. He is the lead author of a study among First Nations people with diabetes in Alberta, Canada.

Like me, Dr. Oster believes collective and intra-generational trauma is at the heart of the diabetes epidemics seen both indigenous and Western people around the world. The loss of culture, values, and close connections with others as well as traumatic wounds are affecting diabetes rates for all of these peoples.

Poor lifestyle, stress, genetics, and physical activity play a role in the collective and our individual development of diabetes. "But the social determinants of health are deeper layers," Dr. Oster says. "Disparities in the social determinants of health including income, education, employment, support networks, living conditions, and health care access lead people to have a poor lifestyle.

"We can go even deeper than that," Dr. Oster continues, "and ask why are there inequalities in the social determinants of health especially in so-called developed nations? This is where we begin to have conversations about trauma, oppression, disempowerment, discrimination, racism, loss of culture, loss of land, loss of self-determination, and so on. Non-indigenous people are not immune to these phenomena."

Most people don't see diabetes in this light. Rather, the typical response is "why doesn't he or she just have some willpower?" And let's not forget this classic: "Just eat less and exercise more."

  • The connection solution

Dr. Oster believes the solution lies in reconnecting us to our cultural roots. In this light, he put his finger on the key for those of us already burdened with diabetes, when in  an interview with the Edmonton Journal he pointed to the next step in his work with First Nations people with diabetes: "Oster said the next step is to work with aboriginal groups to look at those success stories and find solutions to improve connections to culture."

You and I know of success stories who motivate us, and we can find our own connections. My prime success story is  Dr. Richard K. Bernstein. When he was 12 years old he developed type 1 diabetes. Now, at the age of 80 he maintains an A1C level of 4.5 to 4.6, and in his practice as a diabetologist, he has helped thousands of us achieve normal blood sugar levels.

  • The support group connection

We can help ourselves to connect to our culture, and we can do that most closely when we connect to people who manage their diabetes well. Perhaps instead of looking to nutritionists for guidance on all we can eat, we can look instead to people who successfully manage their diabetes.

Having a culture means that you belong somewhere that you are accepted for what you are and not for what you offer. It means that you have the guidance of wise elders who walk the walk. It means that you know what you are expected to do.

Look for a local diabetes support group. If you can't find a positive one that gives you hope to manage your diabetes well, it's better to walk alone or start your own group. That's what I did until years ago when I founded a very low-carb support group where I live, and I wrote about it at "Inside a Local Support Group." You can do it.

See more helpful articles:

"Dr. Bernstein's Big Book"

"The Normal A1C Level"