Mary Tyler Moore: Diabetes Patient and Advocate

Jan. 26, 2017 — For millions of people with diabetes, Mary Tyler Moore will be most fondly recalled for her tireless efforts to advance research into the disease, in particular type 1 diabetes.

Moore, a 1970s television icon best known for her four-time Emmy Award-winning role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Wednesday. She was 80.

Moore was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 33 and lived with it for nearly half a century. The disease is often thought of as one that starts in childhood, but about 50% of those with it are diagnosed as adults, says Andrew Ahmann, MD, director of the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Center at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

Beginning in 1984, Moore was chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, one of the biggest sponsors of type 1 diabetes research.

“Over the past 30 years, Moore educated about and increased awareness of T1D around the world and raised millions of dollars for research that will one day lead to a cure,” reads a statement from the JDRF. “With Moore’s passing, our country has lost an advocate, a hero and a woman who ‘turned the world on with her smile’ both on and off screen.”

Moore, who testified before Congress as part of the JDRF’s Children’s Congress in 2005 and again in 2006 and 2007, pushed for research funding that would eventually lead to many now-common diabetes tools, which were unavailable to her when she was diagnosed.

“For at least the first 20 years that she had diabetes, she would not have been able to check her own blood sugars,” Ahmann says. “And if you go back to the kinds of insulins available when she was diagnosed, they were less pure, less responsive, they might peak unexpectedly, compared to those we have today.”

An estimated 1.25 million Americans have the disease, which is much less common than type 2 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes produce no insulin, a hormone that breaks down sugars and starches and converts them to glucose, which the body uses for energy. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise, leading to dangerous, potentially fatal complications. Over time, diabetes boosts your chances of having high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and other chronic conditions.

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