2011-05-25

Diabetes Basics

Diabetes mellitus is the generic term for a group of symptoms involving the body's failure to utilize the hormone insulin. There is no such thing as "the" diabetes. Each type of diabetes is a very different disorder and must be treated and conceived of as such. What these disorders all have in common is a set of symptoms.

Insulin is the one and only hormone that carries glucose into cellular mitochondria so that they can produce energy. You can think of insulin as the spoon with which human cells eat. No other chemical in your body fulfills this role, therefore, insulin is necessary to survival.

If your body cannot use insulin, for whatever reason, then your cells cannot eat. The food you eat ceases to be absorbed by your body. You starve to death.

Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, however, as I mentioned above, it is itself a collection of symptoms. There are a few different kinds of type 2 diabetes, each with their own underlying causes and, therefore, treatment guidelines. What they share in common is the fact that in all instances of type 2 diabetes, the body continues to produce normal - or even excessive - amounts of insulin; yet that insulin no longer has any effect on the body.

In general, type 2 diabetes can be separated into two categories: (1) genetic type 2 diabetes, and (2) acquired type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind, I am over-simplifying and that in many cases, type 2 diabetes is a function of both genetics and lifestyle.

In the case of genetic type 2 diabetes, an individual is predisposed to insulin resistance due to their genetic make-up. Often they are of Asian or South Asian descent. They may be normal, healthy people, but by middle age, the insulin produced in their pancreas is no longer sufficient to keep them alive.

"Acquired" type 2 diabetes is the one you have heard about. This kind of diabetes occurs when people fail to lead healthy lives. They eat too much sugar and get too little exercise. Their pancreas is constantly called on to produce insulin. The body develops a tolerance. Eventually, it has little effect. This kind of type 2 diabetic is often overweight, and likely also has high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, muscle atrophy, hypertension, and so on.

This Is Important
Although "acquired" type 2 diabetes is the most popular, not everyone with type 2 diabetes brought it upon themselves. We have heard a lot about the "obesity epidemic" and "preventative medicine." This kind of thinking is simplistic and unrealistic. If we cured worldwide obesity, we would still have a type 2 diabetes problem on our hands. That's because there is no "the" diabetes, and diabetes in and of itself is not a disease. It is a symptom.

Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is radically different from type 2 diabetes and, other than sharing symptoms, they have nothing in common.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body no longer produces insulin. A vital hormone used by every cell in the body is therefore completely absent in a type 1 diabetic. Their bodies may be just as sensitive to insulin as a perfect newborn child; but there is no insulin for them to use.

Most commonly, this is caused by an autoimmune disorder in which the body's own immune system attacks and kills pancreatic beta cells. However, in many other cases, type 1 diabetes is caused by pancreatic bacterial infections. Still other cases may be caused by internal injuries that damage the pancreas. Remember, there is no "the" diabetes, and diabetes is only a set of symptoms.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured or alleviated by dietary adjustments, Chinese medicine, holistic healers, homeopathy, naturopathy, exercise, or hard work. We diabetics don't have functional pancreases; herbs and lifestyle choices do not impact this fact.

People with type 1 diabetes will not be "okay" if they just have "a little bit" of whatever treat you're offering them. This is due to the fact that anything a type 1 diabetic eats merely floats around in their blood stream, causing headaches, eye problems, heart problems, etc., unless and until they inject themselves with insulin.

Nonetheless, people with type 1 are free to eat whatever food or drink they please, so long as they inject themselves with sufficient insulin to metabolize it. The insulin they inject, however, does not behave like naturally occurring insulin. Typically, injected insulin takes longer to metabolize food; when type 1 diabetics eat something very sweet and sugary, they often experience hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) even though they have taken enough insulin.

The result is: headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vision problems, and/or vertigo. Type 1 diabetics do not "miss out" on sweets and candies; they dislike them. They feel bad when they eat them. It is not worth it.

Although exercise makes all people healthier, type 1 diabetics do not necessarily gain better control over their diabetes with exercise. For those with type 1 diabetes, exercise and their disease are two separate issues.

I have type 1 diabetes.