Why Do Some Type 1's Live A Long Life Without Complications?

On April 7, 2009, I joined a chat with Gary Scheiner on diabetestalkfest.com. Gary is the author of the book “Think Like A Pancreas” and other wonderful books on diabetes and self management. During that chat I asked Gary if he knew any people who have had diabetes for more than 60 years without any complications. This was a moderated chat and the questions were sent to Gary in the order they were asked. The time was running out and I thought my question would not be answered. Then, Gary went overtime and answered my question just before he signed off. His exact reply was:

“Richard - In fact, I do. A 68-year diabetic woman. Research is showing
that there is a genetic sequence that protects some people against
microvascular and neural complications.”

That quote might not mean as much to some of you as it does me. It still gives me chills sometimes when I read it. It meant so much to me! I hope it means a lot to some of YOU readers too. It strengthens my determination to keep up my program of self management and makes me think I can reach the record set by William Rounds. William has been Type 1 for 85 years and is alive and well.

I am not a scientist, and my information on your subject is anecdotal, but when I received my Joslin Diabetic Clinic diploma on having been a Type 1 diabetic for more than 50 years (I am 72, and have had Type 1 for 62 of those) I was told that the Joslin Clinic’s research so far seems to show that while blood sugar control certainly is important, one common factor among us veterans seems to be an unusually high level of “good cholesterol.”


Thank you for the uplifting news. Hoping many of us have the good genetic sequence!

I have never heard of anyone receiving a diploma i relation to having D. I think its one of the best ideas I have heard, wonderful. I have always thought without really realising it that I wouldn’t have a long, healthy life, now I am not so sure. I am starting to believe that if I keep plugging away at this I might just succeed.

Ritchard, it gives me a good feeling that you are doing so well - that is really encouraging.

My doc told me about this genetical predisposition too. If a T1 lives for more that 20 years with this disease and has not developed complications then it is quite likely that he has some of the protective genes. Being beyond these 20 years without complications is comforting for me. But at the same time it is scary. Because it also means that some of us will not have the chance to achieve that - even with quite good numbers - since their genes can not cope that well with BG fluctuations. It seems that we all need this extra portion of luck. So let us hope for the best and try as hard as we can.

That’s great news for me too. It’s been 41 years for me, My HDL is pretty high too - last time I went to the doc, he said it would make me live longer too.

Olaf, thanks for your reply. That is interesting about the cholesterol playing an important role in longevity for diabetics. Thanks!

Marie, wow 41yrs. I have my HDL levels here somewhere, what is a good level ?

Yes Holger I have heard that before. A Type 1 in Calgary was told the same thing by her doctor. Let’s hope it is true.

There isn’t just one single answer to your question. Some possible answers are:

  1. Genetic (per. Mr. Scheiner)
  2. Excellent BG control
  3. God is always in charge and sometimes overrules. (This is my favorite)

I don’t know if this is true or not, but I read when they were studying those who received the Joslin 50 year medals, they found out that most of them still had some level of C-peptide. They are now trying to see if that has some protective factor.

That may be a factor in the longevity of most long lived people and the more so for diabetics.

Here in siberia blood test sheet says greater than 1.0 mmol/L but over 1.5 or 2 would be much better.

If C-peptde helps why does not our insulin contain some?

I live in Siberia too, it dosen’t say on my bl sheet but I could’ve looked it up.

I’ve linked 2 articles about this.
Joslin article
Medwire news article

From what I can tell, it isn’t necessarily the c-peptide that is protective, so much as its presence means that there are still some functioning islets. It seems having a little beta cell function may in and of itself be helpful in warding off complications.

As far as adding c-peptide into insulin, I’ve read that the idea has been proposed, but that the data involving the specifics of how or why c-peptide might help, is not sufficient enough to attempt it. The cost of adding it to the insulin and getting it approved is just too costly.

Josephine, the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston gives award certificates to people who have lived with diabetes for 25, 50 and 75 years. Eli Lilly, the insulin company, does that too. I looked into the possibility of getting a 50 year award from Joslin but they insist on verification of the date of diagnosis. My parents have died and the hospital where I was diagnosed no longer exista so I have not applied for the award. It doesn’t really matter. My reward is having lived 63 years with diabetes and having no complications. I don’t need any more awards.

I am lucky too, to have ancestors with long life, esp on my father’s side, they have all lived to their 90s. My dad is 90, and has been T2 for about 20 years on top of everything else. I am the only T1 that we know. I am so strengthened and encouraged by all of you, too.

It makes sense that if your pancreas is still working a bit the diabetes is a fun disease instead of a horrible nightmare.

did you really just write “fun disease”?!