Updated: Apr 27, 2022
By: Sonya Sar
Common misconceptions of diabetes are that it’s caused by eating too much sugar or that it’s someone’s fault if they develop diabetes. However, science has proved time and time again that all these misconceptions are false. So what really is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease where your body can’t properly turn food into energy. Normally, the food in your body is broken down into glucose and then released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar in your bloodstream goes up in response, your pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that reduces your body’s blood sugar level by letting glucose into your cells to be used as energy. However, when you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or this insulin isn’t being used in a proper way.
5.6% of all people diagnosed with diabetes as well as 5-10% of the US population have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is also referred to as juvenile diabetes because it usually starts during a person’s childhood, teens, or young adult stage. However, it can actually develop at any age, and 50% of type 1 diabetics are in adulthood. 90-95% of those diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, and it’s usually found in adults over the age of 45. However, more children, teens, and young adults have been diagnosed with type 2.
The risk factors of type 1 diabetes are age, geography, and genetics. Children, teens, and young adults are most likely to develop type 1 diabetes, and the presence of some genes can indicate a development of type 1. Also, the farther you move away from the equator, that can increase the incidence of type 1. Some risk factors of type 2 diabetes are having prediabetes, being overweight, having a relative with type 2, being physically active less than three times a week, and ethnicity. South Asians are up to 6 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes compared to the general population. Also, being 45 years or older can increase your chances of being diagnosed with type 2 but only if you have symptoms of type 2.
Doctors will usually conduct a simple blood test to find out the average levels of glucose over the last three months. They will also test to see whether the patient has a low C-peptide concentration or the levels of ketones in their blood. A low C-peptide concentration is found in type 1 diabetes, and it’s one of the factors that helps distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes in patients. Ketones are tested to see whether the body is burning fat for energy, which is a phenomenon found in diabetic ketoacidosis, a diabetic complication which is common in type 1 diabetics.
The symptoms of diabetes consists of an increase in urination during the night, being very thirsty and hungry all the time, losing weight without trying, having blurry vision or numb or tingling hands, feeling very tired, having very dry skin or sores that heal slowly, or having more infections that usual. Type 1 diabetics can also suffer from nausea and vomiting as well as stomach pain that slowly becomes more severe over the course of a few weeks or months.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are caused by different factors. Type 1 Diabetes was originally thought to have been caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself, stopping the pancreas from producing insulin. After more research was conducted, it was found that the cause of type 1 can be a mix of triggers in the environment such as a virus, metabolism, genomes, and genetics. Many type 1 diabetics don’t have any close relatives who suffer from diabetes, so family history can’t be listed as a cause.
Type 2 Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which is a phenomenon where the body can’t properly respond to the insulin produced by the pancreas. This causes an increase in blood sugar since the pancreas continues to create more insulin in hopes that the body will finally respond. Obesity in children can also have a hand in the increase of the rates of type 2 diabetes in children, teens, and young adults, and it can also cause a higher chance of adults being diagnosed with type 2.
Diabetes can have an effect on most of the systems in a patient’s body depending on the escalation of their diabetes. There are many diabetic complications that can be caused by not managing your diabetes properly. Two common conditions related to diabetes are hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis. Hypoglycemia, which is when a diabetic has low blood sugar, can be caused by a plethora of reasons like taking too much insulin, waiting too long for a meal or snack, not eating enough, or getting extra physical activity. According to the CDC, there are two types of hypoglycemia, nighttime low blood sugar and severe low blood sugar. Even though you can experience low blood sugar at any point during the day, some experience it specifically at night. This can be caused by drinking alcohol at night, exercising close to bedtime, or having an active day.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a diabetic complication that is more common in type 1 diabetics but can also develop in type 2 diabetics. When someone suffers from DKA, there is not enough insulin in their body to allow the glucose into the cell for energy, leading to very high blood sugar. Their liver is then forced to break down fat for energy, producing acids known as ketones. The two most common causes for DKA is illness, which makes it harder to manage blood sugar, and missing insulin shots. To see whether you suffer from DKA, it is recommended that you either test for the amount of ketones in your urine or in your blood every 4 to 6 hours.
However, most diabetic complications can be prevented by consistently managing your blood sugar levels, eating healthy, and being active.
There is no specific way to treat diabetes since it’s a chronic disease, but there are many strategies for better managing diabetes. Taking insulin shots to manage blood levels and always keeping blood sugar levels to the recommended level.
However, there is research being conducted by scientists on how to treat diabetes. In 2021, Professor Heiko Lickert and his research team were able to identify a druggable insulin inhibitory receptor. As discussed before, in a body with diabetes, there is a decrease in beta cells, which are the cells that produce and release insulin. This receptor called inceptor is found to have a part in insulin resistance, which is one of the causes of diabetes. When these inceptors are blocked in the beta cells, then there is an increase in the number of functional beta cells. This makes inceptors a very promising step forward to fighting the root cause of diabetes, and eventually being able to treat diabetes. The next step from here to try to develop drugs that will help with beta cell regeneration using this new information on inceptors.
by Sonya Sar
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