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Type 1.5 diabetes: Restaurateur's own diagnosis of rare disease inspires new menu

Eating a healthy, diabetic diet can keep the disease under control, and that's what inspired this Dallas restaurant's menu.

DALLAS — “Food should be delicious and also healthy.” 

It’s a simple mantra that Jon Alexis has turned into an entire restaurant concept. 

“I used to think I was the skinny kid who could eat whatever he wanted,” said Alexis, the owner of Malibu Poke. “I had to shift gears very quickly to being very aware of everything I ate.” 

The change wasn’t by choice. It was the doctor’s orders. 

“Honesty time: I only went for the check-up because there was an accounting error on my life insurance,” Alexis said. “And they said, 'No problem, come get a screening and we’ll reinstate you.' And that’s when I found out I was diabetic.” 

Alexis isn’t Type 2 diabetic. But he’s not exactly Type 1 either, which is usually diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. Doctors told him he’s in a rare category called Type 1.5 – sometimes referred to as Latant Auto-Immune Diabetes in Adults. 

"They look and are a Type 1, but they are not in the typical age group,” said Dr. Pablo Mora, a lead diabetes researcher at Medical City Dallas. He said patients with diabetes Type 1.5 are usually diagnosed in their 20s or 30s and a lot of them are first misdiagnosed with Type 2.

"They don't respond well to treatment for Type 2,” Mora said. “This is when we starting thinking, maybe we missed a diagnosis. And this is actually a type 1 that appeared later in life, hence late adult onset of Type 1.”

Why does this happen? 

The bottom line: doctors still don’t know. But they have connected the short-circuiting to the immune system.

With Type 1 diabetes, the body attacks its own pancreas and a patient loses the ability to create insulin fast. The same thing happens with Type 1.5 diabetics, but it's just a lot slower or after some sort of injury or infection along the way.

“I use long-term [acting] insulin and eating a healthy, diabetic diet keeps it under control,” Alexis said. 

The restaurateur's diagnosis inspired him to create a menu that is versatile enough for people with all kinds of dietary restrictions, including diabetic-friendly combinations.

“We came up with a self-serve kiosk that allows guests 63,000 combinations to customize any meal,” Alexis said. “I will tell you, [my diagnosis] made me a significantly better restaurateur."

So, when he opened Malibu Poke, it became a reflection of his own health hurdles-- and a smart solution for customers experiencing the same.  

"This isn't just me. This is millions of Americans," Alexis said.  

Diabetes Type 1.5 is diagnosed with advanced blood tests.

The National Institutes of Health is creating a database of Type 1.5 patients and their families as part of ongoing research in this area of medicine.

For more information, contact the Dallas Diabetes and Endocrine Center.

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