Diabetics often take more than one medical drug, eat a restrictive diet, and need regualr exercise in order to help regulate their blood sugar and maintain their health. Diabetic medication is often a complicated system of balance, but can include:
- Metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza, others). Generally, metformin is the first medication prescribed for type 2 diabetes. …
- DPP-4 inhibitors. …
- GLP-1 receptor agonists. …
- SGLT2 inhibitors. …
- Insulin therapy.
A situation where medicine is not available, food is limited, and even movement may be restricted, could severely alter the health of a diabetic. However there are some things you can do to help prep as a diabetic, both for short term incidents and total SHTF.
I am not a doctor. I am a type 2 diabetic and was diagnosed in 2009. I have went through many different types of therapy and was insulin dependent at one point. My experience in living with, and preparing to continue living with this condition is the basis for this article, and not specific medical training. You need to speak with your doctor before adding or altering your prescriptions and supplement intake. Again this is for information purposes, and should not be construed in any fashion as medical advice.
Update: this article has been reviewed by a Medical Doctor, however you should still consult your own doctor before employing any of the advice in this article.
One final note: If you are a type 1 diabetic your survival in an extreme scenario depends on one thing: being able to locate, store and inject or ingest insulin. Without insulin a type 1 diabetic cannot absorb any energy from the food they eat. The glucose from food will build to deadly levels within a few days and proceed to death if insulin is not found. The sections on diet and exercise are meant for those with Type 2 diabetes only.
Obstacles to Diabetic Prepping
There are several obstacles that need to be overcome when it comes to prepping as a diabetic. First and foremost is going to be access to medication. Whether you are currently on medication or not, the unknown circumstances that may develop during an emergency may alter your current situation to one where medication is needed.
It’s important to remember that even if you are a Type 2 that controls blood glucose levels with diet and exercise only, everything we do now is at the benefit of calm surroundings. It may not be so easy to maintain blood sugars during an actual emergency event. The added stress of an emergency can also wreak havoc on our bodies, and that includes instability in blood glucose.
In fact it is well documented that the body’s stress response can lead to hyperglycemia, insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, collectively termed stress hyperglycemia.
The second obstacle is going to be diet. Normal diabetic diets are sugar free and carb restrictive. Most food stores are sugar laden and carb heavy. This is obviously not going to work very well. We must either alter the food that we store, or learn how to somehow change the way we eat and utilize our food stores to better suit our dietary needs.
A third is going to be exercise. Most type 2 diabetics need to exercise on a daily basis to not only assist with stabilizing blood sugars, but also to combat the numerous complications that comes along with diabetes. Depending on the emergency at hand, getting further than your living room may be difficult or dangerous. We have to again look to alter the way we manage our bodies, or find alternative ways to get the exercise that we need in the space that we have available.
Finally we have refrigeration. Insulin needs to be kept chilled because it begins to breakdown at room temperature, which lowers its effectiveness at reducing glucose in the blood. Without the ability to chill the medication, we face harming the very medicine we need to live.
Generally we all store various medications as part of our preps, but if you take any prescription medications, they obviously need to take a priority. The main problem is that prescription medications are restricted, limiting the amount you can get access to, and stock up on. There are some tips and tricks that can help you get a little extra meds stocked up.
The biggest one is making sure you refill your prescription as soon as you possibly can. Most insurance companies will allow you to process your refill between twenty one and twenty eight days after you pick up your meds. Getting it a few days early each month can allow you to slowly build a small supply.
Another popular option is buying medications from outside the US. Mexico and Canada both have much different rules governing prescription medicine. Many drugs that are controlled in the US are available over the counter in Canada. People claim to have success ordering from Canadian pharmacies online and having it shipped across the border.
You can also get medications from friends and family. It seems doctors are often changing people’s medications, especially when trying to adjust a patient’s therapy. Often people end up with a thirty day supply of meds, and only take a few before being switched to something new. These medications are obviously still good, just make sure that they are the same medication and strengths you need.
As most diabetics know insulin must be kept refrigerated for storage. Once it comes to room temperature it has at maximum 28 days, maybe less, depending on the specific insulin. Any plan for a long term survival for an insulin dependent diabetic, including all Type 1’s, will have to account for some type of long term refrigeration.
One popular method is to use special propane (LPG) powered refrigerators. These appliances use propane to cool and many use less than 1lb of propane per 24hr period, depending on your climate. Propane is very stable and easy to store. This method may be the most effective, unfortunately it is also the most expensive.
Another option is to use the ground. The ground is a great insulator, and if you get can down inside the earth at least three feet, you can use it to help maintain cooler temperatures. This option will not get you temperatures as cool as an electric or propane refrigerator, but it will help significantly extend the storage life of insulin.
If you can’t use the ground or are traveling you can use running water. Flowing water has a greater contact with air and therefore increased evaporation. This evaporation helps to lower the temperature of the water which can then be used to store the insulin. As with the ground storage method it will most likely not achieve optimum temperatures depending on your location, but it will extend the storage life.
As I mentioned above the majority of food that is often stored as preps is centered around carbohydrates. This is the component of food that is turned into glucose in the body and creates spikes in diabetics, as their bodies can’t process the glucose when the carbohydrate is broken down.
One of the major considerations that will need to be dealt with is access to fresh produce. Most diabetic diets consist of significant amounts of vegetables to make up two thirds of the intake, with protein being the other third. This is extremely problematic when access to anything fresh could be difficult.
Protein is easier to deal with. You can store canned meats which don’t have any fillers, gravies, or sauces added to it. The best choice is going to be canned or ‘pouched’ fish. Fish like tuna and salmon offer an incredible amount of healthy nutrients. When you are having to survive on stored food, the extra boost of nutrients will help keep you running as close to one hundred percent as possible.
Vegetables are a different story altogether. Canned vegetables, as well as dehydrated vegetables are going to be the easiest to store and will be what you will rely on during the first part of most emergencies. However the ability to acquire fresh produce will need to be addressed for anything like a long term incident.
When it comes to canned vegetables not all are created equal. Commercially available canned vegetables are processed very differently than home canned produce. The difference in the processing and the materials used are there to increase the shelf life of the product. On the same principles, commercially canned vegetables often contain added sodium, additives, and preservatives to extend their shelf life and improve their taste.
Home canned food does have a shorter shelf life, but is usually much less processed, and therefore closer to the fresh vegetable when compared to commercially prepared food. Generally home canned also does not have any additives other than some recipes calling for a small amount of salt. The other advantage to home canned is that it is done by hand, and not a machine. This means that there is a better control over exactly what goes into the jars, where a machine simply processes without prejudice. You generally end up with a cleaner and higher quality product with home canning.
Dehydration is another popular option for storing vegetables long term and can be a fantastic resource, however most long term storage of dehydrated vegetables includes storing them in the freezer. While you can store an incredible amount of dehydrated vegetables in a rather small space using this method, keeping the freezer running when SHTF will not be easy if electricity is lost. This will be an OK method for the short term, but long term options still need to be in place.
A Longer Term Solution
One possible solution is to store seeds and to prep your property to be able to put out a garden without making extreme changes. The best option is to have a patch of ground cleared of all grasses and brush, tilled and turned, and then sown with a beneficial cover crop.
In the event it is needed you can clear the cover crop and turn the soil with hand tools, then you are ready to plant your seeds. Grass is very hard to remove by hand and robs the ground of large amounts of nutrients, so this step will give you a much better starting point.
The second option would be to have materials to set up a small grow station. Seed starting materials, potting soil, seeds, containers, fertilizer, and other supplies can be stored together and pulled out for use when needed. It would be wise to keep a good rotation on your potting soil, fertilizer, and seeds however. A prime container is a five gallon bucket, which can also double as a store for your materials.
Exercise is a major portion of any diabetic’s lifestyle. Exercise lowers insulin resistance which means the natural insulin, if there is any being produced in the body, as well as any injected insulin, can be more effective and reduce your blood glucose level further. Secondly exercise allows the muscles to uptake glucose for energy, which lowers the overall glucose as well.
Depending on the situation, getting out and going to the gym or walking around your neighborhood might not be simple or safe to do. Therefore we need to make sure we have taken provisions to be able to exercise with unknown restrictions.
One of the easiest ways to exercise in these conditions is by doing what is known as “body weight exercises”, where you use your own body weight combined with gravity at different angles as the resistance for your workout. Squats, push-ups, lying hip raises, lunges, side-lunges, crab walks, leg raises, and many others can be done with no equipment.
Another possibility is finding a manual style treadmill that does not require electricity and turns the belt with just your movement. You can also buy a small and lightweight set of resistance bands and together you would have what is needed to get a complete workout in very limited space, without generating any noise or using any electricity.
Now we have looked at the obstacles that a diabetic would face maintaining their current lifestyles and medications. But what can we do, prepare for, or store that would also help? Truth is there are many products on the market that is supposed to help with controlling high blood sugar.
While it is very important to remember that this is not to be construed as medical advice and you should talk with your physician before altering your medications and supplements, we can look at some of the most popular and readily available items.
It is best perhaps to think of these as a last resort if you run out of prescribed medicine with no access to a new supply.
Cinnamon capsules are sold far and wide and have been touted to have a host of medicinal benefits. The most often advertised is that it can be used to lower blood glucose and to help manage diabetes complications. The capsules can be purchased at most big box stores for less than $10 per bottle.
The most common recommendation is to take a 500mg to 1000mg dose with each meal. There are a lot of studies and reports that seem to show the effects of cinnamon, but none have been evaluated by the FDA. A person could easily store a significant amount of the supplements for use post SHTF to help with blood sugar.
Chromium is another supplement that is recommended for diabetics. Chromium helps the body to lower blood sugar levels by reducing the overall glucose in the body. While not as many studies exist for chromium as there are for cinnamon, there are still a lot of claims of people significantly reducing their blood sugar with chromium supplements. Chromium is another one that is readily available and could easily be stocked for later use.
Vitamin D lowers insulin resistance and helps the body uptake glucose from the bloodstream. More importantly though, vitamin D helps the body fight against kidney and heart failure, which are two common and deadly complications of diabetes. Vitamin D supplementation is generally considered safe, and the supplements are easily available and low cost, which makes it one that could easily be stocked.
Berberine is a supplement that has gained popularity in the US in the last ten years or so, but has been used in Asia for generations. Supporters claim that is does all sorts of beneficial things in the body, but most notably, yt reduces insulin resistance and slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive system, which helps reduce spikes in blood glucose.
It is becoming easier to purchase, but it might still take some searching to find. Always make sure when you are buying something ingestible from foreign areas that you make sure it is high quality.
Magnesium is recommended for all diabetics. It is a particularly helpful substance and is used by a majority of processes in the body. Specifically though it lowers blood glucose in the blood, helps with tired and stresses muscles, and can help protect against heart complications and stokes.
Magnesium is one of the major nutrients that you get from leafy vegetables, berries and other fresh produce, so taking this supplement can help if your diet is suffering from a lack of vegetables. It is readily available, affordable, and easy to store.
Thinking Long Term
With all of these obstacles considered it is obvious that attempting to survive post SHTF for a diabetic will indeed be possible, but it will be much more difficult. If we are truly looking to sustain ourselves for the long term the most important thing we can do is improve our health now. While this does not apply to Type 1 diabetics, Type 2’s can take steps now to reduce the severity of their diabetes.
Losing weight is one of the most important things for any Type 2 diabetic. Just losing weight a lot of times can reduce most of the symptoms of diabetes, and could potentially take you to the point where you are controlled with diet and exercise only.
Having a good solid workout regimen can not only help you lose weight and lower your blood glucose, it can also help your build muscle mass if it includes proper strength training. Muscle is important because it uptakes glucose to use as fuel, lowering your overall blood glucose levels. Muscle also burns more calories than fat, which continues to help you lose weight.
Taking care of our bodies during a SHTF will be a difficult thing to do. Taking the extra steps now to help us get into the best possible physical condition will only help us more when times are at their darkest.
updated by Shane Jackson MD on 10/11/2018