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Mary Tyler Moore and Type I Diabetes

Mary Tyler MooreMary Tyler Moore was one of the most famous female television stars in North America, first as a wife and mother on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966) and then as a single working woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977) where  she became a role model admired by women all over the world.   She won six Emmy awards, two Tony awards, an Oscar nomination for her role in the 1980 movie Ordinary People and a Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award.  
 
Her own diagnosis of Type I diabetes at age 33 led to a lifelong role as spokesperson for diabetics.    Her frank admission of dependence on alcohol, in her memoirs and television interviews, made her an example of its devastating effects and treatments for the 10 percent of people who will become alcoholics if they drink any alcohol at all. 
 
Early Life, Marriage and Career
Moore was born in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of three children.  Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was eight years old. She attended Catholic schools and her love of dancing led to an early start in television commercials.  She auditioned for and was rejected by several shows, including the Danny Thomas Show.  Many years later, after Moore was a big star, Danny Thomas said that "she missed by a nose" because no daughter of his could possibly have a nose that small.    
 
At age 18 she married Richard Meeker and became pregnant immediately, which ended her role as the dancing elf in Hotpoint commercials on the Ozzie and Harriet Show.  The couple had a son but divorced five years later.  During and after the marriage, she got roles in several movies and television series, but her big breakthrough came in 1961 when she played the wife on the Dick Van Dyke Show. The show ran for five years and was so successful that she was offered her own show.  
 


 

Second Marriage, MTM Enterprises and the Mary Tyler Moore Show
In 1962, at age 26, Moore married Grant Tinker, a television executive, and when she was 34, they formed the television production company called MTM Enterprises, which produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and many other successful television series.
 
On the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she portrayed an amazingly successful single career woman in a field dominated by men.  The show was so popular that it won 19 Emmy awards and resulted in spin-off shows for three of its cast members: Valerie Harper (Rhoda), Ed Asner (Lou Grant) and Cloris Leachman (Phyllis). 
 
MTM also produced Hill Street Blues, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Bob Newhart Show and many other shows.  However, their marriage was an unhappy one, and Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981, shortly after Moore's 24-year-old son died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. 
 
Her Third Marriage and Multiple Health Problems
At age 47, Moore married Robert Levine, a physician who was 18 years her junior.  They met when he paid an emergency house call to treat Moore's mother for bronchitis.  He told her that she could call him any time if her mother's condition worsened.  She answered, "Can I call you for loneliness?"  They remained married for 35 years, until her death. 
 
When she was 33, just before The Mary Tyler Moore Show began, she had been diagnosed with Type I juvenile diabetes, which affected her health for the rest of her life.  The causes of Type I diabetes are not fully understood, but probably both genes and environment play a role; more on Type I diabetes below.  Her family's health history was bleak; her mother was an alcoholic and her sister, Elizabeth, died at age 21 from a combination of alcohol and drugs.  Her brother died at age 47 from kidney cancer and her only son, who died at 24 of a gunshot wound, had addiction problems.  Moore wrote two memoirs,  After All (1995) and Growing Up Again (2009), in which she described her descent into alcoholism and ultimate treatment. From 1984 on, she described herself as a recovering alcoholic. 
 
Meningioma
In 2012, at age 75, Moore had a non-malignant brain tumor, called a meningioma, removed.  One out of every four brain tumors are meningiomas that rarely spread to other parts of the body, so if a surgeon can cut out the entire tumor from the brain covering, the patient can usually be considered cured.  Actress Elizabeth Taylor had a meningioma removed more than 15 years before she died.  We do not know what causes meningiomas, but they are associated with radiation, female hormones and genetic abnormalities.  The first signs of a meningioma are often blurred vision, headaches, hearing or memory loss, weakness in the arms and legs or eventually seizures.  Chemotherapy is generally not effective. They usually do not cause symptoms until they reach 1-4 inches in size when they start to press on and damage the brain.  
 


 

Difference Between Type I and Type II Diabetes
The main function of the pancreas is to make and dispense insulin when it is needed to drive sugar from the bloodstream into cells.  In Type I diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin to prevent high rises in blood sugar after eating, and high blood sugar can damage every cell in your body.  Type I diabetes is often treated with an insulin pump that responds to a high rise in blood sugar by pumping insulin into the bloodstream.  However, none of the manufactured  devices and drugs are as effective as your own pancreas in regulating blood sugar levels with your own insulin.
 
Most cases of Type I diabetes are thought to be caused by a person's own immunity attacking their own pancreas as if it were germs trying to invade the body.  The immunity destroys the beta cells of the pancreas so they become unable to make insulin.  Lacking insulin, the body is unable to control the high rise in blood sugar that follows meals.   A high blood sugar can cause sugar to stick to the outer membranes of every cell in your body to damage them and cause osteoporosis, dementia, blindness, deafness, heart attacks, strokes, pain, weakness and just about every consequence of cell damage.  Type I diabetes can also be caused by out-of-control Type II diabetes in which the high blood sugar itself destroys the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin.
 
Type II diabetics often have too much insulin but cannot respond to it.  While Type II diabetes is potentially curable, type I is not. Type II diabetics may be cured if they can: 
• get rid of belly fat 
• exercise regularly 
• avoid refined carbohydrates (sugar added foods, sugared drinks and everything made from flour)
• avoid red meat and fried foods
• eat lots of fruits, vegetables and nuts 
• keep blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/ml (or 80 nmol per liter).
These lifestyle changes can help to prevent, treat and even cure Type II diabetics, but a Type I diabetic must take insulin for the rest of his or her life.  
 
Type 1 diabetics  can reduce cell damage, enhance their quality of life and possibly add years to their lives  by following the same lifestyle changes recommended for Type II diabetics (and everyone else). Other than her earlier problems with alcohol, Moore had an exemplary lifestyle and so had a relatively long and productive life, and served as an inspiration for other Type I diabetics.

Final Years and Death
Moore was severely debilitated in later life and was frequently seen in a wheelchair.  Many 911 emergency medical calls were made from her home in the last five years of her life.  Her diabetes damaged her heart, kidneys and nerves to cause blindness, deafness, and dementia, and eventually killed her by causing a pneumonia that required breathing-assist machines for more than a week before her death on January 25, 2017. 
 
December 29, 1936 – January 25, 2017
February 5th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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