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Rocklin author teaches patients how to take control of their health

Learn how to live an ‘optimal life’ with diabetes
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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His father’s sudden death from a heart attack left Jason Blackburn stunned and stressed.

“My dad was only 46 years old and I watched the effect of his early death on my sisters specifically, and it paralleled directly to me having a young daughter,” Blackburn remembered. “So here I was, 300-plus pounds, with a new daughter, and I’m thinking, ‘Am I going be there when she graduates, am I going to get to walk her down the aisle?’”

Blackburn, a Rocklin sales and marketing associate, also started feeling tired and never really could eat enough to feel full.

“My doctor said, ‘You know you’re too young to get diabetes,’ so I didn’t get the lab work and looking back, if I had, I would have probably found out then that I was borderline or in the full throes of being a diabetic,” he noted.

According to Dr. Christine Lee, a doctor of pharmacy and board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist in Rocklin, one in seven Californians, or 3.9 million people, has type 2 diabetes. Lee owns Optimal Life, a company she founded to help people with chronic disease states take control of their health with medical knowledge presented in easy-to-understand books and DVDs in both English and Spanish.

When Blackburn found out he had type 2 diabetes with an A1C of 9.7 (a measure of blood sugar), he immediately went on medication to get his health in check. Today, the father of a preschooler feels fortunate he educated himself with “Optimal Life” and transformed his lifestyle.

“I used to eat for stress, and losing my father was a huge stress,” Blackburn added. “In two and a half years I dropped all the weight and I’m off medications entirely, my cholesterol is normal, my blood pressure is normal, my sugars are normal. If anything, I have to eat a little more food to keep my sugars up because of all the added muscle.”

“Optimal Life” is designed to arm patients and their families with the step-by-step guidance needed to understand chronic disease states such as diabetes, asthma and breast cancer, and help patients communicate with their medical team.

“When they get a chronic disease state, a lot of people are not sure what to do and some of them get depressed – ‘Is this the end of my life? Am I going to get more sick?’ and that’s why I named my company Optimal Life,” Lee shared. “Just because you have a chronic disease state doesn’t mean you can’t have an optimal life. You just have to get in control.”

About 25 million Americans have diabetes, while type 2 or late-onset diabetes makes up more than 90-95 percent of all diabetes cases. Lee stresses that sometimes the best thing is when a patient becomes emotionally aware of how their disease affects their loved ones. This can help motivate the patient to action.

Lee said a harmful myth involves some patients taking less medication or skipping doses.

“You hear people saying, ‘If I take less mediation, I will get healthier,’ and that could not be further from the truth,” Lee cautioned. “If you can’t control your glucose on oral medications, it is better we put you on insulin and protect your organs. Insulin is not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing. It’s going to make you feel better, and when you feel better you’re happier, and when you’re happier you have a better life and you do things that you want to do.”

Lee also suggests 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, with the option of breaking up the time into10-minute exercise breaks. Keeping a healthy portions plate in mind is also essential, with each meal consisting of 50 percent non-starchy vegetables and 50 percent whole grains, starchy foods and protein.

“Exercising on a regular basis is the closest thing we have to a magic pill for health,” Lee shared. “It can help lower your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol. It reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke, relieves stress and strengthens your heart, muscles and bones. It can help you sleep better and reduces anxiety and depression.”

The cruel cost of ignoring diabetes makes it the No. 1 reason for blindness, non-traumatic amputations and kidney failure.

“You’re two to four times more likely to have a cardiovascular event having diabetes,” Lee said.

The good news is people can educate themselves about diabetes, learn how to interpret simple medical tests and start taking control of their lives.