Bernice's mom has diabetes. My friend began to take on the care of her mother's household -- shopping and cleaning. "Her feet hurt," said Bernice on the phone, "she has become more sedentary, and I am worried about her. I bought her comfortable shoes, but I want to look into socks for diabetics," she added. I could hear the exhaustion in Bernice's voice and offered to get the details for her. I found those details in local sock businessman Gary Meade, president of Sugar Free Sox. "My mother was the catalyst," Meade began. "She is a diabetic in her 50s. She is a professional, and she would come home from work with these huge rings around her legs that lasted for hours. I tried to find her better socks, but I couldn't find anything that looked good. There are other diabetic socks on the market, but they're primarily only carried in white, sometimes in black. And when you stretch them, they look like mesh, a very low knit count. The knit count is comparable to sweaters. Some sweaters are almost see-through because they are knitted so widely; the knit count is low. The socks I found were like that. They are not something that my mom could wear to work.

"Our socks look like a department-store sock," added Meade, "like a Dockers or a Nine West, but they stretch to ten inches across, big enough to swallow a bowling pin. Our socks have a fine knit count and are able to stretch, which is unusual. Usually the higher the knit count, the harder it is to get the stretch. The socks are made out of 80 percent cotton, 17 percent spandex, and 3 percent nylon. The spandex and nylon help it to conform around the leg. When the socks are washed, the cotton shrinks back to its normal shape and then the socks will conform again the next time you put them on."

Sugar Free Socks also come without a seam at the toe. "That is important for a diabetic because diabetics don't heal very well. If you can avoid a blister, that is best. They also have antimicrobial coating, which helps resist maladies like athletes foot. The coating lasts about 40 washings, about as long as you probably want your socks around."

As Meade researched diabetic socks, he came upon astounding figures. "I started looking at the statistics on the American Diabetes Association website, and I was blown away. There are 20.8 million diabetics, 800,000 new diabetics a year, which is 220 new diabetics a day. There are 54 million people that are considered pre-diabetic -- their glucose level is acting irregular. Twenty-five percent of everybody over the age of 50 has diabetes. And 150 amputations are done a day because of diabetes. It is a leading cause of amputations. So, I really saw that there was a need in this market.

"Good circulation and proper footwear are critical," Meade said. "A lot of diabetic people know that they need to wear proper shoes, but they don't complete it unless they wear the proper socks. When you get a sock-ring imprint, even if you are not diabetic, what that is doing is slowly cutting off circulation. If you eliminate that sock-ring imprint, you are going to cut down on your chances of varicose veins and blood clots.

"Many diabetic people before wouldn't wear ribbed socks because they were afraid of the sock imprint from the ribbing, but with our socks, they don't have to worry about that. The socks come in men's shoe sizes from 7 to 12, in black, navy, khaki, charcoal gray, and white. The ladies socks range from sizes 4 to 10, in black, sapphire, merlot, orange, pink, and light blue [ $9.99 a pair, or three pair for $26]."

Meade says about half of his customers are not diabetic. "People suffering from nerve damage, neuropathy, are very sensitive to socks. But they can wear diabetic socks, and it's not going to hurt them. Diabetics shouldn't wait to start using these socks. They should work on prevention so the veins in their legs are kept in good shape. But, truly, everybody is in prevention. Everyone can make a really simple choice everyday in what they wear."

Meade says he gets a lot of customer feedback, almost all of it positive. "A lot of people tell us that their feet used to always feel cold, but our socks keep them so warm. That's because good circulation will keep your feet warm. Our socks allow good circulation; we don't have a very thick sock. It's a medium gauge. It's their own blood keeping their feet warm. Sometimes I get daughters saying, 'You got my mom back on her feet again,' Or customers who tell me that 'finally my feet don't hurt.'"

Sugar Free Sox also sells compression socks. "They work just the opposite," he explained. "The sock squeezes the leg. For people who have edema, the pooling of the blood at the ankles, the socks will push that blood back up and help reduce the swelling. So for pregnant women, people with varicose veins, waitresses, security guards, people on their feet all day, they won't have tired legs. I wear them for my weeklong conventions when I am on my feet the whole time, and I do not have tired feet or sore legs at all because they are constantly pumping the blood. Compression socks run $12.99 ; they hit right at the knee, and they come in black, brown, navy, and pearl."

Sugar Free Sox can be purchased at the online store sugarfreesox.com and also at Foot Solutions in Oceanside, Happy Feet in the North County Fair Mall, and Foot Comfort Store in Vista.

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