Diabetes explained is quite simple – it is a physical disorder where the cells in the body are not receiving glucose (the fuel the cells need for energy). The reason is either because the hormone insulin is not produced or the cells do not recognize this hormone.
The Types of Diabetes Explained
There are three types of diabetes mellitus,.
- Type I diabetes mellitus is an autoimmune disorder, usually developed in childhood, that is the result of the pancreas not producing enough insulin to meet the body’s needs.
- Type II diabetes mellitus is the resistance some cells have to insulin, which prevents the glucose from being used.
- Gestational diabetes mellitus is similar to type II, but is caused by pregnancy and often disappears after pregnancy. However, this type may shift to Type II after child birth.
Diabetes is the term people most use when referring to the condition known as diabetes mellitus. However, there are other meanings of this word and to be clear let’s look at the definitions.
- The word “diabetes” means ‘to pass through’. This is in reference to water passing through a person.
- Mellitus means “sweetened with honey”. Referring to the high glucose level in the urine.
- Insipidus means insipid, weak, without taste or color, etc.
A person with diabetes mellitus will pass a lot of sweet urine. This means they will urinate frequently and the urine will have glucose in it. This is the body’s attempt to remove glucose from the blood stream.
A person with diabetes insipidus will also urinate a lot, but this is caused by a lack of the hormone vasopressin which acts to balance the body’s hydration level and has nothing to do with glucose or insulin. When vasopressin (also called Anti Diuratic Hormone) is low, the body cannot hold water and a person will urinate until they are dehydrated.
To explain diabetes mellitus, it is first important to know what insulin is and how it works. Insulin is known as “the storage hormone.” it’s job is to reduce blood glucose levels when it becomes too high. To do this, the glucose is stored, first in muscle tissue, then in the liver, and finally any excess will be turned into triglycerides and stored as fat.
When everything is working normally, insulin is produced and released from the pancreas. It then circulates through the blood stream and acts like a key to open a door in cells to let glucose in. When either of these two steps do not work right, a person has diabetes mellitus.
If the beta cells in the Islet of Langerhans do not produce enough insulin for the body’s needs, the person has what is called Type I diabetes (or juvenile diabetes). This usually occurs in childhood and is an autoimmune disorder from unknown causes. People with Type I diabetes will need to inject insulin several times a day to correspond with blood sugar levels that rise after eating. This is a life-long disorder. Out of all the people who have diabetes mellitus, only about 5% have Type I.
People with Type II diabetes (or adult onset) have plenty of insulin in their system, but the cells do not recognize it. The easiest way to understand this is to picture your house as being a cell in your body. You are the glucose and you want to go inside. To do this you will need to unlock the door and open it. If your house had Type II diabetes, your key would not fit into the lock – perhaps the neighbor kid put gum in it. Without being able to unlock the lock, you are not able to open the door and therefor, you (glucose) cannot go in.
A House, A Key, and You
Without glucose entering the cell, it starves and sends a message to the brain to eat carbohydrates (feed me Seymore). The person may eat, but it doesn’t matter as the glucose is not able to be used. The body tries to get rid of excess glucose by dumping it into the urine – this give new meaning to the pet name “sweet pee.”
In contrast, using this same analogy, if your house had Type I diabetes, you (glucose) would not have a key (insulin) to use at all.
It is important to note that when a person is insulin resistant that not every cell in the body resists insulin. When this happens, usually certain organs or types of tissue are resistant, or not. For example, most commonly, a person’s muscle cells are resistant to insulin, yet their fat cells are not. This means that the glucose in the blood will be accepted by the fat cells, which can take an unlimited amount of glucose to change into adipose (fat) tissue. To make this undesirable effect even worse, since the cells are not receiving energy the person is prompted to eat more.
Common Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus
If you, or anyone you care about, has any of these symptoms, please consult a physician right away. The sooner treatment begins, the less damage diabetes will do.
- Frequent urination (to get rid of excess sugar)
- Frequent thirst (to dilute blood and flush out sugar)
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts or bruises in skin that heal slowly
- Tingly or numbness in hands or feet.
The Harmful Effects of Diabetes Mellitus
When diabetes mellitus is untreated, the high levels of glucose can be very damaging to the body.
- Abnormal fat development (Type II)
- Damage to arteries
- Damage to peripheral nerves
- Damage to kidneys
- High blood pressure
- High risk for stroke
- Frequent yeast or fungal infections
- Slow healing cuts
- Decreased transport of amino acids
- Can lead to, and be a part of, metabolic syndrome
Life With Diabetes
A person with diabetes mellitus can live a mostly normal life. They will have to monitor their blood sugar levels frequently, but with modern glucometers, this is not as invasive as it used to be.
Type II diabetes is often reversible, at least in its severity, with lifestyle changes. These changes include, daily exercise, appropriate body composition (not being overweight), high consumption of produce (fruits and vegetables), a high fiber diet, lean meats and very limited sugar and saturated fats. In essence, a person with Type II diabetes should eat the same way all of us should eat. However, diabetics have less choice in the matter and more of an incentive to eat right.
This was a brief overview of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association web site has statistics and much more information about this disorder. You can find a video explaining diabetes and its effects in 3D. They are both great resources. You can also see the connection between diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome on this site.
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