What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is one of the most widespread diseases in the world, with millions of people suffering from it. But do you really know what is diabetes?
Our body primarily burns glucose for energy. Every time we eat, the digestive tract breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose which is absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose in the blood triggers the pancreas (a small organ located just behind the stomach) to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that plays a critical role in carbohydrate metabolism. It directs the glucose molecules into the cells for use as energy when this happens the amount of sugar in the blood also reduces. If the pancreas does not function well either by not producing insulin or if blood glucose becomes resistant to insulin this leads to a metabolic disorder called diabetes milletus.
So What Is Diabetes? Diabetes is an ailment that happens when the body is not able to properly utilize glucose. When a large amount of circulating glucose in the blood is not converted by the cells into energy, it becomes toxic to the body. An abnormal elevation of blood sugar can lead to serious complications. It can compromise the integrity of the blood vessels, suppress the immune system, reduces the body’s ability to fight infections, damage the kidneys and thickens the blood, and affects good circulation.
Today, diabetes is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the world next to heart disease. The uncontrolled consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar-concentrated foods, a sedentary lifestyle devoid of any physical activities, and a growing obesity epidemic propels the diabetes problem into perilous proportions. Currently, the total annual cost of diabetes is estimated to be nearly $500 billion, and has become one of the most costly chronic diseases in the world. While there are already a large number of diabetic patients, there are twice as many pre-diabetic persons that are well on their way to becoming casualties of diabetes if no preventive measures are undertaken.
Signs And Symptoms Of Diabetes
The signs and symptoms of diabetes are usually subtle and may be ignored by most people. Here are the most observable signs that accompany the disease that you need to watch out for:
Frequent urination is the first of all signs and symptoms of diabetes that you need to look out for. When you have diabetes, your kidneys work extra harder to dilute glucose by drawing more water from the blood. This in turn makes your bladder full and demands you to frequent the toilet.
Excessive thirst. Another of the many signs and symptoms of diabetes is experiencing an unusual thirst more than normally desired, this could be a glaring sign of diabetes. Dehydration sets in because your body increases its discharge of water through frequent urination which calls for you to drink more water.
Unusual weight loss. Since the cells in your body are not able to utilize glucose for energy, they will start to break down secondary energy sources like muscles and stored fat. Rapid weight loss is less visible with Type 2 than with Type 1 diabetes because the loss of insulin sensitivity also happens gradually.
Unexplained fatigue. When the glucose necessary to fuel cellular functions does not reach the cells where it can be utilized, the cells in your body begin to starve causing you to feel constantly weak and exhausted. Such tiredness is evident even if you are not physically engaged with work or in a more relaxed state.
Slow healing and more infections. High circulating glucose in the blood interferes with the body’s ability to repair itself. This takes longer and unnecessary time for cuts and bruises to heal. At the same time, increased sugar in the blood encourages bacteria to thrive and cause infections especially vaginal infections in women.
Other latent symptoms of diabetes include nerve damage, kidney impairment, destruction of the peripheral blood vessels usually those of the legs and feet, and blindness if the progression of the disease is not controlled and addressed in time.
Causes Of Diabetes
There are many different causes of diabetes. Some believe the causes of diabetes are hereditarily related while others may think diabetes is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle or diet. In medical terms, the causes of diabetes can be summarized as the abnormal functioning of the pancreas. Either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body does not respond to insulin. When this happens, glucose builds up in the blood that becomes toxic to nerves and blood vessels, and at the same time, the cells are starved of their energy supply and could not function well resulting in diabetes.
The beta cells in the pancreas are the ones making insulin – a peptide hormone that regulates carbohydrate metabolism. Normally, when there is a spike in blood sugar after eating a meal, the beta cells are activated to release insulin that will help the cells in the body absorb and use glucose for energy. Hormone production is reduced when the insulin-producing beta cells are damaged and destroyed by autoimmune disease as in the case of Type 1 diabetes or by invading bacteria and viruses.
Type 2 diabetes usually caused by obesity is an underlying cause of the abnormal functioning of the pancreas. In particular, the increase of adipose fatty tissues or excess abdominal fat – this is also known as central obesity – most often leads to insulin resistance, a condition that makes cells non-responsive to insulin. These fatty tissues can trigger a host of biochemical reactions in the body that inhibits cellular insulin response and hastens the development of diabetes.
Although genetic susceptibility is currently being studied as a risk factor for developing diabetes, current understanding is limited to the role of genes on the rate of glucose metabolism among various ethnic groups and not yet as a particularly identified gene defect or gene-specific disease. Other risk factors are being identified as diabetes causes, such as lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency, certain medications, and environmental toxins.
Types of Diabetes
Diabetes is not only a single disease but is a complex disease group with a range of causes. Many of us know what Diabetes is, but do you know that there multiple types of diabetes? In short, we can categorize the types of diabetes into two main categories.
The first type of diabetes is known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or commonly known as Type 1 diabetes where the body does not produce insulin and cannot break down glucose in the blood. Although Type 1 diabetes typically occurs in children, it is now slowly affecting adults as well.
The other type of diabetes is known as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) also called Type 2 diabetes where the cells do not respond to the insulin produced by the body. Type 2 diabetes is the more common of the two, accounting for 90% of all diabetes cases in the world. Type 2 diabetes is also strongly related to the rise in obesity among the population.
Unlike Type 1 diabetes which could be inherited by genes, Type 2 Diabetes usually happens when there is unrestrained consumption of refined carbohydrates (i.e. over-eating)
Another type of diabetes that is triggered by insulin resistance is brought about by pregnancy-related factors. This type of diabetes is called gestational diabetes. Women who are either obese already or who gained weight at the start of pregnancy are the ones affected by this kind of diabetes. However, the good news is that gestational diabetes also disappears in most women after giving birth.
Nevertheless, any type of diabetes is a serious health concern that needs immediate attention. Consistently monitoring your blood sugar levels especially when you have existing risk factors for developing diabetes is extremely important. And doing the necessary preventive and curative measures the soonest as possible will prevent unwanted complications that may arise from ignored and untreated symptoms.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is essentially an autoimmune disease. This is a kind of disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its cells. Normally, the basic function of the immune system is to protect the body from the onslaught of invading bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful foreign substances. But in the case of Type 1 diabetes, the immune system strikes an assault at the beta cells in the pancreas which are responsible for producing insulin. The persistent immune attacks will eventually result in considerable damage to the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, leading to a severely dysfunctional carbohydrate metabolic process.
Type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile-onset diabetes because children are the ones that are most often seen to develop this form of the disease. However, type 1 diabetes has been seen to gradually develop in mature people as well. While it is clear that the immune system is implicated in destroying beta cells, the exact biological mechanism in the development of the disease still evades many scientists.
Genetic predisposition has been thought of as a major risk factor for Type 1 diabetes. Scientists are looking at possible gene variants that may provide a better understanding of how the disease advances and what would be potential targets for treatment. Several researchers also hint that insulin itself may be the trigger for the immune system’s attacks against beta cells. Diet in particular infant nutrition, chemical exposure, and viral or microbial infections are also being studied as contributory factors to the progression of the disease.
Persons suffering from Type 1 diabetes become dependent on insulin injections to support the inadequate production or lack of insulin in the body. For this reason, the disease is also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the chronic and most common form of diabetes. No less than 300 million people worldwide are already affected by this glucose metabolic disorder and probably several million more are undiagnosed and who have pre-diabetes. Type 2 diabetes makes up about 90 percent of all cases of diabetes with only 10 percent left to other atypical forms of the disease. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, it is not the ability of the body to produce insulin that is impaired but the capacity to utilize it. This condition is known as insulin resistance.
When the body fails to respond to the hormone insulin, blood sugar does not get into the cells and is utilized as energy which increases circulating glucose in the blood. Insulin resistance by itself triggers a host of biochemical responses such as reduced uptake of fats, elevated cholesterol concentration, increase production of free radicals and promote inflammation.
Also called adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 is a disease that slowly progresses over time. Poor diet, physical inactivity, and being overweight, particularly excess pounds around the waist, are the primary factors that increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. When left unchecked, it often leads to other serious complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and possible limb amputation.
Genetics may have a causative role in the development and progression of the disease but current studies still show very limited evidence. What could be more predictive are nutrition status and certain habits. The rising obesity epidemic coincides well with the continuous increase in diabetes incidence. This is on top of other lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition including excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates, lack of physical activity, persistent stress, and even lack of sleep are linked to the development of this form of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes mellitus is a fairly common complication that develops during pregnancy. This condition is seen only in about 5 to 10 percent of all pregnancies. Similar to Type 2 diabetes, pregnancy-related diabetes happens when the insulin receptors in the cells become unresponsive resulting in abnormal elevations in blood sugar levels.
Women who are overweight, suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome, have hypertension, have existing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes or a family history of the disease, have experienced gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies, and are over 35 years old have a higher probability of developing the disorder. However, about half of the women who are affected by this form of diabetes do not necessarily have the risk factors associated with the disease, to begin with. The disruption in glucose metabolism could likely be initiated by biological changes that occur during the gestation period.
Diabetes mellitus in pregnancy exhibit little to no symptoms but can be diagnosed through routine prenatal screenings and regular blood sugar checks. When left untreated it could lead to delivery complications such as developing babies with bigger sizes, jaundice, and pre-eclampsia that may necessitate Caesarian delivery. However, the risk for birth defects is rare because they usually occur in the last trimester of pregnancy when the baby is already fully developed.
Generally, gestational diabetes is preventable and can be easily treated. In many cases, the disorder resolves by itself after pregnancy. Nevertheless, appropriate lifestyle changes can be of great benefits such as getting proper nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation, and the use of glucose-control medications. Dietary modifications such as limited carbohydrate intake or low glycemic foods, engaging in moderate physical activities, and if your health care provider requires, taking anti-diabetic drugs can be very effective in regulating rapid elevations in blood sugar together.
How To Test for Diabetes
Understanding how diabetes develops, and being familiar with the causes and symptoms of diabetes, give you an indication if you have contracted it. But do you know how to test for diabetes? Symptomatic indicators of the disease may only be observed at a later stage of disease progression, diagnostic tests for diabetes are enormously helpful to validate blood sugar concerns. There are several tests for diabetes that are readily available.
Glucose tests are the primary form of clinical procedure used by doctors to determine if there is an abnormal concentration of glucose in your blood. Irregular increases in blood sugar beyond acceptable levels may clinically indicate diabetes in the person. Here are the following types of blood sugar screening to test for diabetes.
Fasting Blood Glucose. The most common test for diabetes is the fasting blood sugar test. As a pre-requisite, you will be required to refrain from eating any solid food and beverage except for water for 12 – 14 hours before checking your blood glucose levels. Test results beyond the 70-100mg/dL normal range may indicate diabetes.
Random Glucose Test. In a random blood sugar test, fasting from food is not necessary while blood glucose levels are checked at different intervals within the day. If you have diabetes, you will exhibit high fluctuations of blood sugar levels compared to a fairly stable test result from those without diabetes.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test. This form of blood sugar screening requires you to fast and later to drink a high glucose beverage while blood samples are checked at fasting after a high glucose drink for a 1 – 2 hour period. This test is frequently used to check for diabetes that occurs among pregnant women also called gestational diabetes. The normal range for an oral glucose tolerance test is not more than 100mg/dL for the fasting phase, less than 180mg/dL for the first hour, and 150mg/dL for the second hour after the glucose drink.
How To Prevent Diabetes
We can prevent diabetes. And that is a reassuring fact many fail to grasp either because they don’t know it or simply because they don’t want to make important lifestyle changes necessary to prevent the disease. Learning about this subtle but deadly metabolic disorder and understanding how it undermines your health is the first but often overlooked step toward identifying effective measures against diabetes assault. Here are the top preventive actions you can take to effectively combat diabetes in any of its forms.
Reduce sugar intake. Because diabetes is a problem of glucose metabolism, reducing your intake of foods with high sugar content is an imperative step to prevent diabetes. Avoid the consumption of refined carbohydrates like those found in white bread, pastries, processed juices, and soft drinks, instead, start becoming conscious of the effect of certain foods on your blood sugar. Stay away from high glycemic foods or that which could create a spike in blood glucose levels.
Eat a high-fiber diet. Plan your meals every day to include at least 70 percent of complex carbohydrates with about 35 grams of fiber. Most vegetables with exception of carrots and potatoes which are starchy, legumes, oat, and seed husks like psyllium, nuts, and apples are good sources of fiber. Many studies point out that eating fiber daily could lead to a significant decrease in blood sugar.
Lose weight. Many of those who have diabetes also have weight problems. Indeed, obesity is considered a major contributor to the development of the disease. Losing weight can help in alleviating the symptoms associated with the disease such as fatigue, nausea, and anxiety attacks.
Get physically active. An active lifestyle brings a lot of health benefits and exercising regularly can prevent diabetes. Recent clinical studies showed that those who engage in even simple physical activities such as walking cut their risk of developing diabetes by a whopping 50%. Exercise is naturally effective in bringing down your blood sugar levels since your body is forced to burn glucose for energy and its glucose-lowering effects could even extend to a few more hours after an exercise activity.
Treatment for Diabetes
There are many different types of treatment for diabetes today. But everything is aimed at regulating the abnormal elevations of blood sugar levels. While taking diabetes medications is considered the treatment of choice by most healthcare providers because of their rapid glucose-controlling effect, it is important to know as well that there are complementary treatments that are equally effective and proven to help those who are suffering from the disease. Combining the wisdom of conventional medicine with nutrition-oriented complementary therapies will provide a more balanced treatment action plan for diabetic patients.
Nutrition counseling and lifestyle changes should be the basis of any kind of treatment for diabetes. Drugs can only go so far as masking the symptoms if no efforts are made to address any underlying cause. You need to ensure that losing weight and changing your eating habits are among the key recommendation incorporated into the treatment protocol. Here are the key remedies which are effectively used in treating diabetes:
Niacinamide and Vitamin D. For those who are at high risk of developing Type 1 diabetes, taking niacinamide – a form of Vitamin B at 25mg per kilogram of body weight has been shown to retard the development of the disease in children. In addition, Vitamin D supplementation is also necessary as an adjunct treatment with niacinamide.
Chromium. This mineral has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and can lower the blood sugar levels of those who have diabetes. It has been found that most diabetics are deficient in this nutrient.
Bitter Melon and Gymnema Sylvestre. These herbs have been found to decrease and help regulate blood sugar. In particular, bitter melon which is a cucumber-like vegetable has potent blood-glucose-lowering action. Similarly, evidence for Gymnema Sylvestre shows that it can reverse damage to certain cells in the pancreas.
Alpha-Glucosidase Inhibitors and Glucophage. This is a type of diabetes drug that works by blocking the enzymes that breaks down carbohydrates from food. Taking this drug can reduce the amount of glucose released into the blood after taking a meal. Glucophage on the other hand works by suppressing glucose production in the liver and increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin. However, these drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as stomach cramps, gas, and diarrhea.
Insulin injections. For those needing insulin replacements, injections are given to replace the hormone that should have been produced by the pancreas, particularly in those with Type 1 diabetes. There are short, intermediate, and long-acting forms of insulin that your doctor can give depending on what will be best for you.
Diet For Diabetes
Taking healthy steps and maintaining a balanced diet is not only recommended but is extremely important for diabetic people who want to control their blood sugar levels and decrease potential complications that may develop with the disease. A diet for diabetes patients must be not only low in refined sugar but also fats. Food containing high in plant fiber can help a lot in preventing disease progression. Together with other lifestyle interventions, diabetes may even be reversed. Here are some general dietary recommendations you can follow as your first steps toward controlling diabetes:
Eat high-fiber foods. Your body reacts differently to different types of carbohydrates. Choose slow-release carbs that do not cause rapid spikes in your blood sugar. Eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, leafy vegetables, and legumes and limiting your intake of refined and processed foods will dramatically improve your blood sugar profile. Recent studies have also shown that daily consumption of 50 grams of fiber leads to a 10 percent decrease in blood sugar.
Choose quality protein sources. Constantly elevated blood sugar affects muscle build-up. Supplying your body with an adequate amount of muscle-building protein will prevent rapid weight loss and muscle wastage. Beans, eggs, fish, and chicken are excellent sources of protein.
Eat healthy fats. Fats are important macronutrients that your body needs for many metabolic processes. However, what kind of fat to eat is an important consideration for many diabetics who are also at risk of cardiovascular diseases. Make sure you add healthier fats to your meal planning. Olive oil, nuts, avocadoes, and fatty fish like salmon or tuna are your better options. Avoid hydrogenated fats mostly found in processed foods and limit your intake of saturated fats.
Cut down on sweets. Since diabetes impairs blood sugar metabolism, cutting down your blood sugar sources is not only a wise decision but a healthy one. Limiting if not eliminating sweetened beverages like cola, soft drinks and juices will lower your risk of developing disease complications. If you cannot avoid sweets, take them with a meal rather than eating them as a snack by themselves. You can have yogurt whipped with avocado or banana instead of a slice of cake.
It is very important to plan your meals so you will not fall into the trap of just eating anything that is available. Keeping a food diary for many who are struggling with blood sugar problems proves to be very helpful. It allows you to be more aware of what and how much you eat and helps you make adjustments along the way.
How To Cure Diabetes
Millions have been affected, but there is still no single drug to cure diabetes. While insulin injections have been used as a treatment for diabetes, it does not actually cure diabetes. Instead, insulin is merely a temporary solution to reduce the complications that accompany the disorder and a means to improve the quality of life for many diabetics.
Causative mechanisms have been proposed across a range of possible biological systems including gene defects, viral and bacterial triggers, dysfunction in sensory neurons, and autoimmunity factors among the research community to discover a permanent cure for diabetes. As diabetes research continues to move forward, promising treatments are now being investigated and tested as possible cures for diabetes.
Stem cell therapy. Many researchers are hoping that the science of stem cells could be an answer to many chronic diseases including a way to cure diabetes. Initial animal studies on Type 1 diabetes using grafted stem cells in the pancreas yield encouraging results. Growth of new beta cells in the pancreas and production of insulin is actually observed. However, the process of implanting stem cells in humans is not yet available.
Bariatric surgery. People with Type 2 diabetes who underwent weight loss surgery have actually improved their health profile and their need to maintain diabetes medications. For many who had a real problem losing weight through diet and exercise, bariatric surgery has been considered as an option to keep their weight within normal levels. But diabetes could recur once they gain back those extra pounds.
Capsaicin injections. In a 2006 study, a group of researchers discovered that an active compound in chili peppers called capsaicin when injected into the pancreas of Type 1 diabetic mice killed the pancreatic sensory neurons and stimulated the gland to start producing insulin at normal levels. This study, however, has not been replicated in humans to see if it has the same positive effects.