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What is Diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

When we think of Diabetes, a lot of us will immediately jump to the idea of “Type 2 Diabetes.”  We also tend to associate Diabetes with “overweight people who are sedentary and don’t have any discipline to stop eating sugar.”  But what about the people who are born with Type 1 Diabetes?  What happened to them?

According to the Google definition, Diabetes is “a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone ‘insulin’ is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine.

In Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), there is an inability to produce insulin.  This is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakes it’s own healthy cells for ‘foreign’ cells.  This autoimmune response attacks beta cells of the pancreas that help to produce and secrete insulin.  Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate glucose levels in the blood by acting as a key that allows glucose to enter cells and decrease the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.

In Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), the body is still able to produce insulin through it’s beta cells in the pancreas, but the body’s cells become resistant to the insulin, or the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels, and sometimes both happen at the same time.  This is known as being insulin resistant.  Over time your pancreas has to work harder to produce more insulin, and this can damage the insulin producing cells.  If not taken care of, the pancreas may eventually stop making insulin due to cell wear out and loss of function.

Due to the insulin resistance or lack of insulin production, the levels of glucose in the bloodstream remain high and the cells throughout the body don’t get the energy (sugar) they need.  High blood glucose levels, hyperglycemia, can lead to a stroke, loss of limbs, eye damage, kidney damage, nerve damage, heart damage, and can slow the healing of wounds.  It can also cause, headaches, blurry vision, or a diabetic coma.

According to the WHO, “Type 2 diabetes comprises the majority of people with diabetes around the world, and is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.”  So, our typical assumption of, “overweight people” having Diabetes is actually not too far off, but we do need to remember that there is an increasing number of people who are lean and fit that are being diagnosed with T2D.  We also need to remember that while some people do lack discipline in their lives and suffer the unfortunate consequence of disease, there are some who, despite their best efforts, cannot lose weight due to metabolic, hormonal, or other issues.  In this case, individuals often seek professional help to figure out what is causing them to hold onto the extra weight.  While in the middle of determining the cause, they may be diagnosed with T2D.  However, whatever the situation may be, being overweight significantly increases the risk of T2D

The individuals with a healthy body weight who are diagnosed with T2D are often not mentioned in the media.  This is most likely due to the lack of research done on such individuals, however, we do know that these diagnoses can be attributed to fatty liver disease, stress, autoimmunity, genetics, and being metabolically unhealthy.

Diabetes is also becoming more and more prevalent among children.  T2D used to be called “Adult Onset Diabetes,” but given the increasing number of diagnoses among a younger population, the name was no longer accurate and was eventually renamed as “Type 2 Diabetes.”  Just from a health aspect, the increasing number of diagnoses in children means we are becoming more overweight and unhealthier earlier and earlier in our lives.  This points toward the issue that, as a population, we are not teaching or placing value upon how to achieve and maintain a healthy bodyweight, in a healthy and natural way, and choose a healthy lifestyle.

The American Diabetes Association notes, “If the incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in children are increasing and if this increase cannot be reversed, our society will face major challenges. That is, the burden of diabetes and its complications will affect many more individuals than currently anticipated, and the cost of diabetes to our society will cause us to consume enormous resources. Also, many more Americans will be taking potent medications, which have attendant risks, for most of their lives” (Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents, Mar 2000, Vol 105, Issue 3).

While Diabetes is a serious, and often scary, disease, and while we have amazing technology and pharmaceuticals to help us, it can be prevented and even treated without drugs.  Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the biggest factors in preventing Diabetes.  However, eating a well balanced diet full of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, etc) and minimizing processed foods, getting regular physical activity, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake will also have an enormous impact in preventing and even treating Diabetes when caught early.

Do you have experience with Diabetes?  Tell us about it!

Torpy, MD Janet M. “Diabetes.” Endocrinology.  The JAMA Network. N.p., 22 June 2011. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
“Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents.” Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents | AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS | Pediatrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
“Type 2 Diabetes.” Type 2 Diabetes: Symptoms, Treatment, Diet, and More. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
“Beta Cells.” Beta Cells – What They Do, Role in Insulin. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
​RN, David Spero BSN. “Can Beta Cells Be Healed?” Diabetes Self-Management. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

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