A couple of weeks ago, on a boat ride with strangers, I noticed one of the passengers brought with him no-sugar happoshu or low-malt beer. The passenger was a Caucasian male in his late 20s or early 30s. I asked if I could check the food label as I wanted to see if the beer was no-carb as well. As he handed the can to me, he volunteered that he was drinking no-sugar beer because he is pre-diabetic. I was taken aback by this disclosure because he was not embarrassed about his condition, unlike other non-Japanese Type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic individuals I’ve met. In fact, it seemed to me that he was more embarrassed by the fact that he was drinking no-sugar beer than he was by the diagnosis, and that his condition was a poor excuse for not drinking regular, proper, beer.
As someone who was diagnosed recently, he’s obviously still learning how to deal with it. Although he doesn’t seemed embarrassed by his condition, he did wonder out loud why he has it despite the fact that his lifestyle can be described as healthy, he has never been overweight, and as far as he knows diabetes does not run in his family. He posited the idea that it could be due to all the sugar, junk food and alcohol he was fond of. He was honestly perplexed. Anyway, he said all these in a rather self-deprecating way, as if he should be guilty but is actually not.
I told him that it has little to do with sugar, junk food or alcohol, or otherwise almost everyone on the planet will have be diabetic or pre-diabetic. It could be genetic, although his family may not have a history of diabetes in living memory. It could be environmental, particularly chemicals we use in everyday life or ingredients in commercial food, as some researchers suggest.
He seemed to take what I said quite calmly and while he was interested in what I was saying, he did not seem that eager on finding something specific to blame for his condition, unlike many others I’ve met. Mind you, he’s not ignoring it. He is trying to change what he eats and drinks, although for now, that’s limited to getting rid of sugar, minimizing pizza and avoiding what everyone recognizes as junk food. Sure, he could do more but switching from satisfying beer to an unappetizing no-sugar, no-carb version is a major step. I can’t do it so I’ve basically given up beer (when going out I have a taste of real beer and then stick to distilled liquor with soda), and I imagine it would be difficult for a young man who enjoys beer to make do with a poor, poor substitute. But the fact that he’s doing it, and with little self-pity, is a refreshing change.
I would like to think that his atypical outlook is part of an encouraging trend in how people perceive and accept Type 2 diabetes and its early version.