Bret Michaels Discusses Life With Diabetes

Rock star Bret Michaels was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was a mere six years old—a secret he carefully guarded for years. However, while touring with his band Poison, in the eighties, a shocking medical emergency arose when Michaels went on stage.  “I went into insulin shock and collapsed”, recalls Michaels who was 22 at the time.  “I woke up in a hospital and that’s when I told the public for the first time that I was a diabetic.”  

Today, the musician is determined not to let diabetes stand in his way. “My secret for keeping healthy is: mind, muscle and music over matter,” says Michaels. He keeps a sharp mind by working out 90 minutes daily.  Depending on whether he’s touring or at home, Michaels says his fitness routine falls into what he calls Column A or Column B.  “Column A is when I stay at hotels with a good gym or I’ll have my dressing room set up into a mini gym of weights, balls and bike,” explains Michaels. “If I’m on the bus traveling, then it’s B and I’ll do some kickboxing.  I prefer to work out in the morning because it gets my blood sugar right.” 

 “Exercise has many beneficial effects for persons with Type 1 diabetes,” says Dr. Linda DiMeglio, endocrinologist at Indiana University Health.  “This includes increasing insulin sensitivity, so that less insulin is needed to control blood sugars, which is what Bret does.”  While this does not completely prevent insulin shock, she says, “it does make blood sugars more even overall.”

Another key part of his diabetes management is a meticulous eating plan.  Every morning, Michaels consumes two egg whites combined with half slice of cheese, a side of turkey bacon, wheat toast topped with peanut butter and coffee for breakfast.  “My diabetes is a blessing and a curse, but the blessing is I’ve learned how to exchange foods or make it right if I eat a slice of my favorite pizza,” says Michaels.  “If I do indulge, the next meal is veggies and a piece of chicken.” 

Dr. DiMeglio says, “It is critical to learn how to make diabetes fit into your life.  One of the most important components is learning how to eat a diet that works well for the individual, which is generally one that allows some flexibility.  Very few foods, are “forbidden” for persons with type 1 diabetes.” 

Regular blood sugar checks are also key for Michaels. “The first thing I do when I get up is check my blood sugar.  I check my blood up to 6 times a day and if I have to adjust the insulin, I will. Diabetes was a big wake-up call for me and it made me self-reliant at a young age – it put me ahead of the game.  I’ve come to embrace it all.  I go forward with positive thoughts.  That’s what I did with my diabetes and that’s what I do with my career.” 

-- By Bonnie Siegler