Diabetes, also known as the more scientific concept of diabetes mellitus, is a medical condition comprised of a group of metabolic diseases triggered by high glucose levels. This means there is more sugar in the blood than the body can handle. The pancreas, which is the insulin regulator, becomes unable to deliver sufficient doses as to balance the sugar traveling throughout our veins. As a result, the body becomes insensitive to the usual quantity, so the patient suffering from diabetes will have to resort to medical treatment for the rest of his life in order to manage the disease. If not handled in time, the illness can lead to kidney diseases, high blood pressure and even stroke. There is no cure for diabetes at the present moment, but only medication that can alleviate some of its symptoms. However, there are many factors which can help someone live with it and that are strongly dependent on one’s food choices, emotional status and environmental conditions.
According to the data provided by specialists in medicine and wellbeing:
- Diabetes can occur at any age; one can suffer from it whether he is a child, adult or old person
- As of 2013, no less than 382 million people had diabetes, of which almost 29 million were American citizens
- In 2014, 86 million people showed signs of prediabetes which mean they were more likely to develop the disease in the following years
- 4 million Americans receive a positive diagnosis every year
- Diabetes’ occurrence is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle combined with a poor diet and no physical exercise
- There are three types of diabetes, namely type I (which requires treatment by means of injections), type II (caused by insulin insufficiency) and Gestational diabetes (which is influenced by pregnancy)
- The disease remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide together with the hypertensive heart disease, lung cancer and HIV/AIDS
Whereas diabetes is not as deadly as many other illnesses, it does have an adverse impact on one’s life in the long term if not diagnosed in time. Fortunately, it can be prevented and managed through eating healthy food and exercising on a regular basis.
What are Glucose and Insulin?
Every diabetes patient is bound to hear these two terms for the rest of his life: insulin and glucose. While some of the disease’s symptoms can be handled as to cause minimum damage, it is essential for someone who suffers from diabetes to take good care of the levels of insulin and glucose for the rest of his life.
- Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas and by means of which the sugar in carbohydrates is broken down and used by the body to produce energy. What is also does is regulate the sugar levels in the blood. However, when the body has to digest higher carbohydrate quantities, the pancreas must secrete even more insulin as to maintain a balance. Even so, there comes the point when the organ is no longer able to complete its task, so the hormone is not being produced in the necessary amount anymore. Therefore, the cells become immune to its action and the body develops resistance to it.
- Glucose is a compound which the body obtains after digesting the carbohydrates. If not immediately needed, a certain quantity is stored in the liver under the shape of glycogen.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer secretes enough insulin to decrease the glucose levels. If left untreated, it can cause various complications and affect other organs such as the heart or kidneys.
Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia happens when the sugar in the blood is more than what the pancreas can manage through its insulin secretion. The concept is what people understand through diabetes. Hyperglycemia is not the disease itself, but more like a set of symptoms associated with it and that can be triggered by other factors such as:
- A diet rich in simple carbohydrates and saturated fats
- Too little physical exercise
- Dealing with stressful situations
- Any other underlying medical condition that affects the way the pancreas and liver function
Usually, the first sign of hyperglycemia is a need to drink more liquids than usual which leads to frequent urination. Of course, this does not necessarily mean one deals with diabetes, as it can be the symptom of any other illness. Even so, it is for the best to consult with a doctor that will conduct numerous tests as to establish the correct diagnosis. If not treated in time, it will be followed by ketoacidosis, a life-threatening medical condition characterized by breathing problems, nausea and vomiting.
On the other hand, one can experience hypoglycemia when the sugar levels are too low which means one feels less energetic. Some of the signs include headaches, irritability, heart issues, trembling and concentration problems. Hypoglycemia can happen in diabetes patients who take more insulin than needed or eat less and do not provide the body with enough sugar for it to properly function. In this situation, the person in question will have to eat something containing carbohydrates as to raise the sugar levels once more and avoid possible complications.
Types of Diabetes
Diabetes is a complex disease with numerous symptoms that are distributed in accordance with their severity degree and mechanism of action. Thus, as in the case of any other major illness, diabetes is divided into categories, more precisely three, as follows:
- Type I Diabetes Mellitus is the most severe form of all. It makes up for about ten per cent of the total number of cases. In this situation, the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin anymore. Whereas there is no known cause behind it, it is believed that the disease appears after the pancreatic cells are affected by the body’s autoimmune response. When the main insulin regulator no longer functions, the glucose cannot be used as energy anymore. Genetics are another reason behind the development of type I diabetes mellitus. Its first symptoms are similar to those of hyperglycemia and include thirst, a frequent need to urinate and general fatigue. The majority of patients notice a sudden weight loss soon after receiving a diagnosis. This is due to a starvation of the body which is not able to break down the nutrients and properly use them. Type I Diabetes Mellitus requires insulin injections. They can be administrated either once if they are long acting or multiple times a day, depending on how fast the hormone is released into the blood stream and for how long it can help the body. The injections work best when paired with a diet comprised of vegetables and lean meat. However, one should pay close attention to how much insulin he uses as larger quantities can lead to hypoglycemia.
- Type II Diabetes Mellitus is a less severe form where insulin injections are needed only when the disease advances. No less than eighty-five per cent of the cases are of patients showing specific symptoms. The main age segment is represented by people over the age of fifty, but an increasing number of young adults and even children are diagnosed every year. In the case of identical twins, there are high chances that both of them will suffer from type II diabetes at some point in their lives. In this situation, the pancreas can produce enough insulin as to balance the glucose levels but only for so long, as the amount is bound to decrease once the body develops sensitivity to it. Unlike the first, Type II diabetes involves weight gain and is more often than not caused by it. Obesity is usually at the root of it, so overweight people are more predisposed to suffer from it than those with normal BMI. While it depends on genetics, with some people being more prone to suffering from it than others, this type is a preventable and manageable one after it occurs. Changes in one’s dietary habits, regular workouts and checking blood sugar levels are some of the actions a doctor will recommend. Oftentimes, they are coupled with specific medication that must be taken daily for extended periods. In case the pancreas does not work anymore, the patient will have to use insulin injections. Still, this is unlikely to happen if the medical treatment is followed and one eats healthy food.
- Gestational Diabetes occurs only in pregnant women with no medical history of diabetes. They develop it because the sugar levels are higher than normal and the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to bring them down. As the fetus grows, he is in need of more nutrients which the mother can provide him with. Even so, her body must secrete more insulin than normal (up to two or even three times the regular amount) which does not happen in most of the situations. Women over the age of forty are more affected, but the babies of those under thirty can suffer the same consequences, with some of them becoming overweight in the first years of life. Unlike the first two types, gestational diabetes is temporal more often than not. Generally, as soon as the mother gives birth, the sugar in blood is balanced and the disease disappears. There are cases when this does not happen, and the illness turns into Type II diabetes. For this reason, blood sugar testing is compulsory both during the pregnancy and several months after it. Some of the risk factors are a family history of the disease, one’s age and health status, genetics and the polycystic ovary syndrome.
There are several other types whose patients are lower in number but which are just as serious as the main ones:
- Prediabetes is the precursor stage to Type II diabetes but remains just as severe in symptomatology and manner of action. Here, the constant high blood sugar levels are the clear indicator that something might be wrong inside our bodies. Fortunately, even if one reaches this phase, diabetes can still be avoided by adopting a healthier lifestyle. If they do not address it correctly and in time, people with prediabetes can suffer from heart problems as well.
- Congenital diabetes is a very rare condition which occurs in newborn Specialists are currently conducting studies as to find out the cause behind it, but many of them link it with a genetic deformation of the pancreatic cells.
- Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults is a form of Type I diabetes with a slower onset which makes it similar to type II. In the beginning, the patient needs the usual medication for the second type. As the disease progresses, the doctor will include insulin injections in the treatment.
- Maturity-onset diabetes of the young or monogenic diabetes accounts for less than two percent of the patients. It is strongly related to genes, so it does not depend on one’s age, weight or health. Therefore, if a parent carries the altered gene, the child is likely to receive a positive diagnosis before the age of twenty-five.
As of late, experts have claimed that Alzheimer’s disease should bear the name of “Type III diabetes” due to the fact that it might occur as a result of insulin resistance by the brain.
There is no clear cause of diabetes at the present moment. Judging by the numerous types and the different manner in which a patient reacts to them, it is hard for researchers to name just one reason when in fact there are much more that when combined contribute to the disease’s appearance.
Type I Diabetes
- Genetics: they play a major role in the illness’ development, as many genes that carry information and which are altered might be transmitted from parent to child. Studies show that people are carrying certain genes named HLA are at higher risk for type I diabetes, in which case prevention is mostly futile.
- Environmental conditions: there is an undisputed connection between our bodies and the external world. When it comes to diabetes, those more prone to it are sure to be affected by the environmental factors to a greater extent than all the others. We are not talking only about the poor quality food many of us eat, but also exposure to chemicals and toxins that negatively impact the immune system and slow down the defense mechanism.
- Weak autoimmune response: the bodies of patients suffering from Type I diabetes show irregularities at a cellular level. In their case, the white blood cells that would normally attack the harmful agents do so with the pancreas’ beta cells, regarding them as intruders that should be destroyed. As there is an ongoing process of cell renewal and destruction, the patient must be administrated insulin injections to make up for the loss.
Type II Diabetes
- Body weight: in the majority of cases, a type II diabetes patient will be either overweight or obese. The phenomenon is related to an excess in carbohydrate intake that the body cannot properly process. The more glucose is released, the more insulin must the pancreas secrete. Because the process is not a constant one and people usually eat more than they should, the pancreas becomes overworked. After a while, it can no longer produce insulin (or it does it only in small doses), the additional glucose is stored as fat, and one gains weight. This increases not only the risk of diabetes but also that of heart disease.
- An imbalance between glucose levels and insulin production: insulin is the hormone that lowers the blood sugar levels. On the other hand, glucagon, secreted by the liver, raises them. Researchers have yet to find out why in people with type II diabetes the glucagon levels are always high.
- Dysfunctions in beta cells’ mechanism: also due to genetics, a beta cell dysfunction is bound to affect the process of insulin production.
Other causes include genetic irregularities in the way through which insulin is produced and used, infection with viruses, pancreas diseases or drugs (more specifically steroid hormones).
In the case of Gestational diabetes one’s genetic predisposition, a family history of the disease or low insulin levels are the key factors which contribute to its development. In addition, the new mother is more likely to develop type II diabetes so she should not overlook her diet and perform any kind of physical exercise as soon as her physical condition allows her to.