What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when blood glucose or blood sugar, is not metabolized properly and raises to an unhealthy level. It is a long-term, slow-developing disease that affects almost 10% of us in the United States. That equates to 1.25 million children and adults in the U.S.

Due to its slow development, unfortunately, diabetes often goes undetected and can affect many other organs in the body triggering other complications, including kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, eye damage and neuropathy. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to learn how to manage your condition to prevent these complications.

Glucose and Insulin

Glucose comes from foods we eat and is the main source of energy for our bodies. It comes primarily from carbohydrate-rich foods. During normal digestion, enzymes and acids break down your food and glucose is released. Blood glucose will naturally rise and fall throughout a day depending on the foods you choose to eat and your energy level.

After you eat it is normal for blood glucose levels to rise. This rise triggers the release of a hormone called insulin from the pancreas. Insulin helps your body turn blood glucose into energy that your cells can use. Insulin travels from the pancreas through the blood to your cells ordering them to allow glucose to pass through cells walls to be used for energy. Insulin also helps your body store glucose in muscle and fat tissues for later use. Without insulin telling your cells to open up and absorb glucose for energy, the glucose stays in your blood.

There are two reasons why diabetes occurs:

  1. the pancreas cannot produce normal levels of insulin
  2. the body produces normal levels of insulin, but, the cells are unable to detect or make use of it.
    In both cases, blood glucose levels are high.

Types of Diabetes

Prediabetes

When blood sugar levels are borderline high or higher than the normal range but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes; you are considered to have prediabetes. Prediabetes will eventually result in diabetes if no measures are not taken to prevent it.

type 1 diabetes where T cells attack beta cells that produce them

In diabetes type I, insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas release exosomes are taken up by dendritic cells. Dendritic cells present the exosome contents to T cells. T cells see the proteins as enemies and attack the beta cells that produce them.

Symptoms

Symptoms, however, may not be present. Some may experience fatigue, excessive thirst, and frequent urination. The best way to confirm prediabetes is by measuring blood glucose levels.

Causes

Poor lifestyle and eating a lot of sugary foods, especially refined sugar, will cause a rise in your blood glucose levels. Health conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), obesity, and eating a lot of fatty foods may contribute to prediabetes.

Treatment

Regular physical activities like doing chores around the house and exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables, and less sugary foods, as well as changing into a healthier overall diet, are some ways to reverse and prevent prediabetes.

People with prediabetes are often able to stop the progression of their condition to diabetes type II by learning about diabetic diets, nutrition, activity, and goal setting during a Living Well Chronic Disease Self Management workshop series. Click here to learn more.

Prevention

To prevent yourself from becoming prediabetic:

  • practicing healthy eating habits
  • exercise regularly
  • visit your doctor every six months for routine checkups, including regular blood glucose tests.

Type I Diabetes

Also known as Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus where the pancreas can no longer produce insulin.. Roughly 5% of diabetes cases are Type I. This condition is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, which end the body’s ability to produce insulin. These cases often begin in childhood.

When the body cannot produce insulin, blood becomes saturated with glucose, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Lack of glucose in the cells means that it will have no energy to carry out normal processes in the body and may result in diabetic ketoacidosis.

Type 2 diabetes showing both proper and improper glucose metabolism

Diabetes type II: mechanism of normal Blood Sugar absorption (Left) Vs. insulin resistance in Type 2 Diabetes (Right).

Symptoms

Patients with type I diabetes experience the following:

  • extreme thirst
  • extreme hunger
  • excessive urination
  • unusual weight loss
  • frequent dizziness (due to hypoglycemia) because cells are undergoing severe starvation.

Extreme cell hunger can cause:

  • hardening and narrowing of your arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • the build-up of ketone bodies
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • eventually death

Treatment and Prevention

Since type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, there are no sure ways of preventing it, as genetics play a key role in the development of the condition. However, proper diet and exercise are crucial in delaying the onset and prolonging its progression.

Maintenance of insulin injections is prescribed to patients with DM1, to compensate for the lack of production of insulin in the body.

Type II Diabetes

About 1 in 10 Americans have or develop type II diabetes, the most common type of diabetes. This disease is also described as insulin resistance, as cells become insensitive to the presence of insulin due to constant exposure of high insulin content in the blood. Type II diabetes commonly occurs in adults.

When there is a constant and high intake of sugary foods; the body will continuously produce insulin to compensate and regulate blood glucose levels. This becomes a reason for a continual insulin spike.

Increased insulin levels in the blood cause the cells to have a high insulin threshold and thus becomes less responsive to normal insulin levels. Progression of prediabetes can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms

The development of type II diabetes is often prolonged, with no symptoms, can go undetected, and therefore cause more complications. However, most patients may experience the following:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • hunger

Some also experience:

  • blurred vision
  • slow wound healing
  • unexplained darkening of the nape, armpits, and other areas of the skin.

Treatment and Prevention

Making a constant effort to keep a healthy weight, having a balanced diet, regular exercise, and an overall healthy lifestyle are the best ways of preventing type 2 diabetes. Regular blood tests for glucose and A1C concentrations may help control blood sugar levels and detect diabetes as early as possible.

Depending on the patients’ medical history, medications may vary. A common drug prescribed for diabetes is Metformin, which decreases intestinal absorption of glucose and improves cell sensitivity to insulin.

Learn how to better manage diabetes to reduce complications and live a healthier life through a Living Well Chronic Disease Self Management workshop series. Click here to learn more.

Risk Factors

Genetics is a significant factor for predisposition to diabetes. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), obesity, pregnancy, age, and race are some of the substantial risk factors for diabetes. Unhealthy habits like excessive intake of fatty and sugary foods, smoking, and lack of physical activity also contribute to the trigger of onset and development of diabetes.

Test kit photo by stevepb is licensed under the Simplified Pixabay License.
Diabetes type I photo by Manu5 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Diabetes type II photo by Manu5 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 


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