Diabetes

Diabetes is an increasingly common family of diseases in which the sufferer’s blood sugar level is higher than normal over a prolonged period.  The two primary causes of diabetes are the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, and the inability of the sufferer’s cells to respond appropriately to the insulin being produced.

Diabetes has been known since around 1500 BCE, particularly in India, being diagnosed by physicians there as “honey urine” (as it attracted ants), and type 1 and type 2 were differentiated between 400-500 CE.  Greek physicians made reference to diabetes in about 250 CE.

There are four common categorizations of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes is insulin deficiency caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin.  Until recently, type 1 diabetes was most commonly found in children, and was called “juvenile diabetes”.  In recent times, this trend has reversed, and there are now more adult cases than juvenile.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body’s cells are unable to respond to insulin.  Rates of type 2 diabetes have increased at the same rate as obesity, and is typically managed by exercise and diet changes.

Gestational diabetes is when a woman who did not have diabetes develops hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) during her pregnancy.  Gestational diabetes is relatively common, as studies have shown this disease to affect 3-10% of pregnancies.

Other types of diabetes are a group of about 20-25 other diseases which cause improper regulation of blood sugar.  These diseases are relatively uncommon, and are treated in different ways, depending on the specific cause.

Diabetics need to be conscious of their diets, because a sudden drop in blood sugar can cause a person to suddenly fall unconsciousness, which can be very dangerous depending on their surroundings (while driving, for example).  Type 2 diabetes is also treated by diet modifications, so learning about proper nutrition and developing good food habits is essential for diabetics.

The most important metric for diabetics when considering food choices is the Glycemic Index.  The glycemic index of a food measures how much effect the consumption of that food will have on a person’s blood sugar level.  Even very similar foods can have very different glycemic indexes (GI): White flour is one of the worst foods for diabetics to eat, while whole wheat flour is among the best.

Another major concern for diabetics is diabetic neuropathy, which is when a person’s nerve fibers are damaged by high blood sugar.  Frequently, the damage being done is not noticed by the diabetic until significant damage has been done to their body.  The common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are:

  • Cuts or sores not healing (especially on feet)
  • Burning, tingling, or weakness in the hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in digestion, urination, or sexual function

It is important to take quick action on these issues, because tissue damage can lead to gangrene, which has to be treated by amputation in severe cases.