Understanding Diabetes

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Understanding Diabetes

Sugar is a compound found in many foods nowadays that can cause extreme problems for diabetics. The human body processes glucose, or blood sugar, and converts it to energy. Glucose is found in many natural food sources and makes things sweet such as fruit or desserts. It is also a product of starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes and pasta. Glucose is regulated in the body by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. It stimulates cells to process glucose and turn it into the right amount of energy needed to function daily.

Healthy insulin levels should rise and fall according to the amount of glucose in the body. When eating, glucose levels rise as should insulin. When blood sugar drops, natural insulin should also drop.

Diabetes is an incurable disease caused when the body does not produce insulin in the correct way. The body is then unable to process blood sugar naturally which can lead to medical emergencies resulting from extreme highs and lows of glucose in the system. There are two common forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes

Also known as juvenile diabetes, this is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the healthy cells of the pancreas and essentially shuts down the body’s natural production of insulin. Most people are diagnosed with this condition before the age of 40, although in rare cases it may occur later in life. The exact cause is uncertain but genetics plays a significant role in the disease. It is also possible that exposure to certain viruses can cause the onset of the disorder.

Since the disease is most likely to occur in children it is important for parents to watch out for the signs. Symptoms can include excessive thirstiness, frequent urination, bed wetting for children without a history, unexpected weight loss, mood swings, blurred vision, fatigue, and weakness. However, it is also important to note that none of these experiences are unique to diabetes, so there may be a variety of potential causes. If you notice these symptoms in your child you may wish to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent it from occurring. Family history plays a role and individuals with parents or siblings with the disease have an increased risk.

From a sociological perspective, it appears that diabetes is more common in populations living further away from the equator. For example, the highest rates of type 1 diabetes are seen in Finland. Other risk factors that are still being researched and not yet proven may include exposure to viruses such as Epstein-Barr and mumps. Low vitamin D levels and early childhood exposure to cow’s milk have also been considered as possible risk factors. It is important to reiterate that these factors are still speculations and have not been proven.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin, monitoring the consumption of carbohydrates, frequent blood sugar level testing at home, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle including nutrition and exercise. Patients can take insulin as a pill, an injection, or by using an implantable pump. There are also technologies available that make glucose monitoring very easy at home.

Type 2 diabetes

Frequently called adult-onset diabetes, this is a chronic condition that affects how the body metabolizes sugar and produces insulin. For type 1 diabetics the body may continue to produce insulin but still not process sugar correctly or the pancreas might not be making the right amounts of insulin to properly metabolize the glucose. Type 2 diabetes mainly affects adults, although childhood obesity rates are increasing the cases in younger people. The condition is incurable but can be managed in most cases by maintaining a healthy lifestyle although some people still need to take insulin.

Type 2 diabetes develops slowly and many people have the condition for years without knowing it. Excessive thirst and hunger may be symptoms of the condition along with frequent urination, slow healing infections, and patches of darkened skin which may be a sign of insulin resistance. Genetics may be a cause of type 2 diabetes, but it is most prevalent in individuals with unhealthy habits including obesity and inactivity.

Experts still aren’t certain what causes some people to develop type 2 diabetes, but they do know that certain factors contribute to the condition. Being overweight is one of the leading contributors of type 2 diabetes but not all patients with the condition are overweight. Weight distribution may also be a factor with more risk for those who carry weight in the abdomen rather than hips or thighs. Lack of exercise is also a contributor since activity helps the body lose weight and converts glucose to energy. Family history may also play a role.

Type 2 diabetes is also more commonly diagnosed as people age, typically over 45. However, with the increased rates of childhood obesity more young people are being diagnosed. Some people are diagnosed with prediabetes, a condition where the blood sugar level is higher than what is considered normal but not high enough to classify as type 2 diabetes. It will progress to the condition if left unmanaged.

Treatments for type 2 diabetes include strict adherence to a healthier lifestyle. Many patients can reduce their symptoms all together by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. However, some patients will still need to take insulin medication to control their blood sugar levels. Testing blood sugar levels at home is also important for patients with type 2 diabetes. The best diet for someone with this condition is high fiber and low fat with a reduction in simple carbohydrates. There are a number of drugs that can help the condition up to and including insulin replacement therapies, so discuss your options with your doctor.

There are other less common forms of diabetes including gestational diabetes, which can affect some women during pregnancy. This can cause complications for the mother’s heath and the health of the baby so it is important to monitor the pregnancy for the condition.

We want to hear from you. Have you had any experiences with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes?

Image by Dennis Skley via Flickr

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About the Author:

At Holistic Pain, we have a passion for helping you and those who around you who suffer from pain find relief. Part of that passion extends to education and transparency. In our Holistic Pain blog, we focus on new research studies, along with our own tips, for maintaining and improving your quality of life, even with pain.

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