Funky Diabetes and Other Musings

Recording artist Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest visits the Tribeca Film Festival 2011 portrait studio on April 27, 2011 in New York City. (April 26, 2011 – Source: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images North America)


On March 23rd, I glanced at my Facebook feed to find several posts telling Phife Dawg to rest in peace.  My first thought was, “What?!?  This must be a mistake, an internet hoax.”  But as I scrolled, I realized it was true.  Malik Taylor, the “5 foot assassin” was dead.  I knew he had diabetes and kidney problems, but I couldn’t believe he was gone.  I mean, he was only a few years older than me!  I was around middle school age when his group, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) burst onto the scene.  Their music was the soundtrack of our youth.  When I heard the news, I rushed to YouTube to listen to some of my favorites:  “Electric Relaxation”, “Check The Rhime”, “Award Tour” and Scenario”.  I struggled with whether or not to write this.  There have already been so many posts, articles and video tributes to Phife Dawg and ATCQ already, just in the past two days.  But I think it’s my duty to speak on it from a health education perspective.  Not only as a fan, but as a physician.

I never treated or even had the opportunity to see Phife, “The Funky Diabetic”, in person.  But in my career as a Family Practice doctor, I have treated hundreds of diabetic people.  There are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II.  Type I Diabetes, which Phife had, is also known as Insulin Dependent Diabetes.  Your body depends on insulin to take care of the sugar in your bloodstream.  Type I diabetics do not make enough insulin.  They have to have an insulin pump or inject insulin every day in order to survive.  Most people are diagnosed with this when they are children or young adults.  According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.”  Type II diabetes is much more prevalent.  It is caused by insulin resistance.  These people’s pancreas may still make some insulin, but the body does not listen to it as well.  When you have insulin resistance, your body doesn’t know what to do with the sugar it encounters.  Belly fat can increase insulin resistance.  Exercise can improve it.  Some people say they have “Borderline Diabetes” or “a little bit of sugar”.  What they actually have is Prediabetes.  If you are fasting (haven’t had anything to eat or drink except water for at least 8 hours) and your blood sugar is 126 mg/dL or more, then you are classified as having diabetes.  If your fasting blood sugar is 100-125, you are considered a prediabetic.  You are in danger of developing diabetes and should start making changes to prevent that.  One of the resources I direct my patients to is .  If you are already diabetic, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.  You can control your blood sugar if you commit to healthy eating and physical activity (30 minutes/5 days a week).  You can always start small and build up to this.  Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.  Make sure you are healthy enough for certain types of exercise and ask how to prevent low blood sugars when exercising.

If you’re going to control your blood sugar, you have to know what it is.  I come into contact with so many diabetics who never check their blood sugar at home.  They only get it checked when they visit the office, a couple of times a year.  If you don’t have a glucometer and other testing supplies, you can ask your doctor for a prescription.  You can also buy them over the counter at most stores that have a pharmacy.  If you don’t know how to use the supplies that you have, ask your doctor’s office to show you or read the manual that comes with your kit.  You should discuss your personal blood sugar goals with your doctor, but here are some targets that the American Diabetes Association suggests:

  • 80-130 mg/dL before a meal
  • Less than 180 mg/dL 1-2 hours after a meal

The other number that you need to be aware of is your Hba1c.  The Hba1c is a number that represents your average blood sugar over the last 3 months.  The ADA recommends a target of 7%, but your target may be different.  Discuss your goal with your doctor.  Most people should have this test done every 3-6 months.  Microalbumin is a test that we use to monitor protein in the urine.  That number can give us a clue that something is happening to your kidneys before they show signs of distress in your bloodwork.  You should have this done at least once a year to check the impact of diabetes on your kidneys and to take steps to reverse harm.

In 2012, there were 8.1 million undiagnosed diabetics in the United States (  Make sure you aren’t one of them.  Get tested.  If you need more information about diabetes and what you can do to prevent, treat or manage it, go to the American Diabetes Association’s website  I pray that Malik rests well.  I pray that you live long and prosper.

Disclaimer:  This article is not intended as medical advice.  It is for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you feel you have a medical problem, contact your personal medical provider.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician and author of the forthcoming book, MD Dreams: Practical advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond.  You can follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita.

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