On October 14, Georgia Republican Senatorial candidate Herschel Walker (seen here at a rally on … [+] October 11) participated in a debate against Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia). (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
During Friday night’s debate against Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia), Herschel Walker didn’t pull out a stethoscope as a prop. The debate rules did not allow props, as Walker was told after he had flashed a police badge during the debate. But Walker, the Republic nominee for one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, did make a statement during the debate about what could be considered a very medical doctorly topic. It was about insulin, diabetes, and “eating right” and got a not-so-sweet response on social media.
Walker’s statement came after Warnock had said the following: “I think [Walker] should tell the people of Georgia why he thinks they should have expensive insulin and why the pharmaceutical companies should be able to charge us whatever they like.” Walker then replied with “I believe in reducing insulin, but at the same time you got to eat right.”
Presumably, Walker meant that he believes in reducing insulin costs, because reducing insulin in people’s bodies could lead to many more cases of diabetes and more deaths. Walker continued with, “Because he may not know and I know many people that’s on insulin, and unless you have eating right, insulin is doing you no good.” Walker went on to say, “ You have to get food prices down and you got to get gas down so that they can go get insulin.” You can see the whole exchange in the video accompanying this tweet from The Recount:
The exchange emerged because Walker has repeatedly emphasized that he wouldn’t have voted for the Inflation Reduction Act had he been in Congress. As described by The White House, that Act includes limits on the cost of certain prescription drugs for those on Medicare including a $35 cap on a month’s supply of insulin. During the debate, Warnock said that he has supported such legislation, so folks “don’t have to choose between buying medicine and buying groceries.”
Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters during his campaign tour, outside of the Liberty … [+] Theater on October 8, 2022 in Columbus, Georgia. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)
OK, let’s unpack what Walker said medically. There are two issues with diabetes and insulin use that Walker appears to have overlooked, namely that there are two types of diabetes. These two types are different in many ways. First of all, Type 1 diabetes used to be known as insulin-dependent diabetes because typically the bodies of those with Type 1 diabetes can’t naturally produce enough insulin. That’s why those with Type 1 diabetes typically need insulin treatments to survive as Jasmine Clark, PhD, who earned a PhD in microbiology from Emory University and serves in the Georgia House of Representatives, tweeted:
And Renee Rayles tweeted “I need insulin to live. Without it I will die, most likely in a week,” as you can see here:
Yeah, as Rayles indicated, without insulin, your life would quickly go off the rails, so to speak. Insulin is a pretty darn important peptide hormone. If someone were to ask you, “can I stop your body from producing insulin, please,” your answer should be “no” even though that person said “please” and asked really nicely. You probably don’t wake up every morning and say, “thank goodness for my functioning beta cells in the islets of my pancreas,” because you can’t see these islet cells in the mirror and they don’t appear in selfies or dating profiles. But no matter how much of an alpha you think you are, you depend heavily on these beta cells. They normally secrete insulin at different levels throughout the day, depending on when you need the hormone.
Say you eat something like hummus shaped in the form of Simon Cowell’s head. That food then goes down your gastrointestinal (GI) tract where it’s broken into smaller components such as sugar, which then gets absorbed from your GI tract into your bloodstream. At the same time, signals go to your beta cells to produce more insulin.
Sugar will circulate in your bloodstream until insulin helps the sugar move from your bloodstream into different cells. The various cells of your body need sugar for fuel to do the stuff that cells do. Without sugar, your cells and your body can’t do important things like watch Netflix and live. Your liver can also produce and release sugar into your bloodstream when needed. But you don’t want your liver to that willy nilly. Too much sugar in your bloodstream for too long can lead to all sorts of problems such as damage to blood vessels in various parts of your body such as your eyes, heart, legs, and kidneys. Insulin can effectively tell you liver, “dude, stop all that sugar producing and releasing stuff. We’ve already got plenty of it in the bloodstream right now.” Thus, insulin plays the important role of a mensch to your liver and many cells in your body.
Ukrainian volunteer Anastasiia Sokhatska carries packages at a small aid storage center in Lviv. … [+] Such aid included insulin, highlighting the fact that this is an essential medication for many. (Photo by YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP via Getty Images)
As Rayles railed about, no amount of eating right will overcome the fact that those with Type 1 diabetes can’t produce enough insulin themselves naturally. Real scientists— you can flash a prop of a test tube now—believe that Type 1 diabetes can result when your immune system mistakenly perceives your own beta cells to be invaders. Your immune system can then destroy your own beta cells in an autoimmune reaction. No amount of beetroot, prunes, wheatgrass, or whatever else you choose to eat—flash a prop of fork now—is going to replace the missing or non-functioning beta cells. Telling someone with Type 1 diabetes who isn’t able to afford insulin to eat better could be a bit like telling someone who is drowning to wear a better swimsuit.
Type 2 diabetes is quite different from Type 1 diabetes. Two mechanisms can be at work for the Type 2 version. The beta cells in your pancreas may not produce enough insulin. At the same time though, the cells throughout your body may not respond as well to insulin. Lifestyle modifications such as physical activity and eating healthily are indeed key to managing Type 2 diabetes. However, it is important to note—flash a prop of a pen now—-that such lifestyle modifications alone may not be necessarily enough for everyone with Type 2 diabetes. There are still plenty of people who do all the right things but still are saddled with Type 2 diabetes and need insulin.
Remember Walker is not a Texas Ranger. And he is not a medical doctor. So take with a fanny pack of salt what he and any politician who is not a relevant expert may say about medical subjects, (although you should be careful about consuming too much salt in general.) Yes, eating a healthy diet will always be important. No politicians should ever say, “you got to eat wrong.” But saying “unless you have eating right, insulin is doing you no good” would not be a medically accurate thing to say. Your body needs insulin. And if your body can’t produce enough insulin, you need to get that insulin from somewhere. This means that insulin needs to be affordable enough for you to keep purchasing it. Otherwise, your body will have to pay a very hefty cost.


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