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Diabetes is a disease in which the individual’s body is unable to convert glucose (sugar) to energy. Every cell in our body needs the energy to function.
The food that we eat is digested in the stomach and intestines. Among the products of digestion is glucose. Glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed throughout the cells in the body.
The pancreas (a gland behind the stomach) responds when there is lots of sugar in the blood by producing a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is needed to help transfer the sugar from the blood to the cells where it is converted to energy.
With diabetes, insulin is no longer produced in sufficient amounts by the pancreas or the insulin produced is not working properly.
Since glucose is not converted to energy, it accumulates in the blood and individuals with high blood sugar will have the following symptoms:
- Polyuria – frequent urination
- Polydipsia – excessive thirst
- Polyphagia – excessive hunger, large intake of food
- Feeling very tired
- Wounds that heal slowly
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
The two main types of diabetes are:
- Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes (juvenile diabetes) which generally affects children, teenagers, and young adults and daily insulin injections are needed.
- Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes (adult-onset diabetes) which generally affects people over the age of 45 years and is treated by positive lifestyle changes like eating healthy and exercising regularly. Meds and insulin injections are occasionally necessary.
The second type is the more prevalent form of diabetes.
The Causes and Effects of Diabetes
The pancreatic cells, more specifically the beta cells, are responsible for the production of insulin. As mentioned, insulin regulates the concentration of glucose in the blood by opening “glucose channels” in the cell walls of the cell so glucose can enter.
Once inside the cell, glucose is converted to energy which is used for the hundreds of cell functions.
In diabetes, either one of two scenarios may happen:
- Insulin is incapable of opening the “glucose channels” in the cell wall, preventing glucose to enter the cell.
- The beta cells of the pancreas are not producing sufficient amounts of insulin.
These abnormalities cause the concentration of glucose in the blood to rise. This condition leads to a host of metabolic imbalances which produces the symptoms mentioned above.
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells that produce insulin. See figure below.
In type 2 diabetes, the cells in the body do not respond to insulin.
The figure below shows that once insulin binds with its receptor on the cell wall, a series of events happen to lead to the opening of glucose channels where glucose can freely pass through.
The insulin receptors in type 2 diabetes are inflamed or damaged and are unable to bind with insulin. As a result, glucose channels remain unopened and glucose accumulates in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes is a mixture of cellular dehydration, nutrient starvation (vitamin/mineral deficiencies), insulin resistance, lack of glucose balance, toxicity, and oxidative stress that impacts and damage the majority of cells in the body. These can result in a weakened immune system. Put simply, type 2 diabetes is a lot more than just a blood sugar disorder.
Understanding this makes you aware that controlling your blood sugar is just one part to handle and overcome your diabetes.
Insulin resistance and cellular inflammation work together by means of a positive feedback loop, creating more cell damage and keeping your body’s cells from efficiently utilizing the insulin produced by the pancreas.
Stated another way, the insulin receptors on the cell wall of a damaged cell ignores insulin in the blood and is unable to assist glucose’s entry to the cells (insulin resistance).
As progressively less glucose enters the cell, it accumulates to a damaging level in the bloodstream. This condition is called hyperglycemia. The cells get deprived of energy, which can make you feel tired.
Hyperglycemia and Complications
The persistence of hyperglycemia motivates the beta cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin, which can cause the beta cells to begin to exhaust its capacity to manufacture insulin.
Eventually, this could lead to beta cell malfunction, which will decrease insulin production and make blood glucose levels to rise even further, creating a destructive cycle of metabolic, biochemical and hormonal imbalances.
Over a time of many years, these imbalances spread more damage to more cells and lead to a variety of complications which includes:
- Damage to Arteries – around 2 out of every 3 diabetics die of heart disease. With time, high blood sugar levels harm the blood vessels, resulting in a greater risk of clots. This enhances your risk of a heart attack. Diabetics are also at a greater risk for stroke due to blood vessel injury.
- Damage to Kidneys – the possibility of having chronic kidney disease increases over time in diabetics. Diabetes is the most frequent cause of renal failure. Controlling your blood sugar reduces your risk of kidney failure. Diabetics can take medications to reduce the risk of kidney disease.
- Damage to Eyes – over time, elevated sugar levels can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels within the retina of the eye (diabetic retinopathy). This can lead to gradual and permanent vision loss. This condition is the most common cause of new blindness.
- Damage Causing Nerve Injury – tingling, numbness, and a feeling of “pins and needles” are also symptoms of nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy). This is most common in the hand, feet, fingers or toes. Again, controlling your blood sugar level can prevent this complication.
- Damage to Feet – because of nerve damage, it will become hard to feel and avoid injuries to the feet. Additionally, damage to the blood vessels can decrease circulation in the feet resulting in poor healing. Sores and gangrene are complications of diabetes that can occur in the feet. This may result in amputation in severe cases.
How Type 2 Diabetes Is Diagnosed
If you have symptoms of increased thirst, increased hunger, frequent urination, tingling of your hands or feet, unexplained weight loss – your doctor will have reason to believe you have diabetes.
A fasting plasma glucose test or a plasma glucose test will be conducted to confirm the diagnosis.
Fasting Plasma Glucose Test
The fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) is the preferred technique to confirm a diagnosis of diabetes since it is easy to do and less expensive compared to other tests.
Your doctor will instruct you not to eat anything for 12 hours before the FPG test.
A small amount of blood will be extracted from you and sent to the lab for analysis.
Normal fasting blood glucose range from 70 to 100 milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL for non-diabetics. A diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed when two separate blood tests show that your fasting blood glucose level is greater than or equal to 126 mg/dL.
But, in case you have a normal FPG, and show symptoms or have risk factors for diabetes, your doctor will opt to do a glucose tolerance test to ensure that you do not have diabetes.
Casual Plasma Glucose Test
The casual plasma glucose test is also a procedure for diagnosing diabetes. In this test, blood glucose is checked without regard to the time since your last meal. You do not need to abstain from eating before the test.
A glucose level greater than 200 mg/dL may suggest diabetes, especially if the test is done again at a later time and reflects identical results.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
The oral glucose tolerance test is yet one more procedure useful to identify diabetes. However, it is often just performed during pregnancy to diagnose gestational diabetes or for an individual who is thought to have type 2 diabetes but has a normal fasting glucose level. It will also be performed to diagnose pre-diabetes.
Diabetes can result in major health problems unless you keep your blood glucose under control. On the other hand, it is possible to stay healthy and feel good despite your diagnosis if you strictly follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan and keep a healthy lifestyle. By selecting foods intelligently, exercising regularly, maintaining a normal weight, decreasing your stress level and making other modest lifestyle changes, coping with diabetes will be easier.
The fundamental objective in treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes is to control blood glucose (sugar) levels within the normal range, with little swings to low or high levels.
Type 1 diabetes is treated with:
- Diabetic diet
Type 2 diabetes is treated:
- Primarily with weight reduction, a diabetic diet, and exercise.
- When the above measures fail to handle the elevated blood sugar of type 2 diabetes, oral medications are given.
- Insulin treatment is started if oral medications become ineffective.
Sticking to a diabetic diet is a crucial factor in controlling blood sugar in diabetics. Your physician or dietician will provide you with guidelines for food preparation. Your food must be:
- Low in fat, cholesterol, and simple sugars
Weight Loss and Exercise
Weight loss and exercise are necessary treatments for type 2 diabetes. Weight loss and exercise boost the sensitivity of the cells to insulin (countering insulin resistance), thus helping to control blood sugar elevations.
Take the first step and contact us through our no-cost virtual consultation. During this process, we will recommend options that will work best for you. Every client is different, so our virtual consultants and physicians tailor the treatment to match each person’s needs.