Diabetes is a disease that has to do with the body’s production of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin enables the body to pick sugar out of the bloodstream and to get it inside the cells where it is used for energy or is stored. However, if the body does not produce enough insulin, little of the sugar will get to the cells to produce energy or be stored. Instead, sugar builds to high levels in the blood and begins to cause problems. Simply put, that is diabetes.
The term “diabetes mellitus” comes from a Greek word meaning “to siphon” and a Latin word meaning “sweet like honey.” These words aptly describe the disorder, for water passes through the person who has diabetes as if it were being siphoned from the mouth through the urinary tract and right out of the body. Furthermore, the urine is sweet with sugar. In fact, prior to the discovery of more efficient techniques, one test for diabetes was to pour a patient’s urine near an anthill. If the insects were attracted, this indicated the presence of sugar.
Diabetes is the Fastest Growing Disease in the World Today!
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Diabetes is an epidemic.
- 17 million Americans have diabetes.
- with 5.9 million completely unaware that they even have the disease.
- Diabetes is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States.
- With over 200,000 deaths each year from diabetes-related complications.
- Among U.S. adults, diagnosed diabetes increased 49% from 1990 to 2000.
- Similar increases are expected in the next decade and beyond.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body’s cells use glucose for energy. Blood glucose (or blood sugar) is manufactured from the food we eat (primarily carbohydrates) and by the liver. If the cells can’t absorb glucose, it builds up in the bloodstream instead, and high blood sugar is the result. Over time, the high blood glucose levels of uncontrolled diabetes can be toxic to virtually every system of the body.
Because type 1 diabetes is frequently diagnosed in childhood, it is sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. However, it can develop at any age throughout adulthood. Early diagnosis is important to prevent some of the more serious complications of diabetes, which include heart disease, blindness, high blood pressure, nerve damage, and kidney failure.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Millions of people have diabetes and don’t even know it because the symptoms develop so gradually, people often don’t recognize them. Some people, particularly pre-diabetics, have no symptoms at all. Diabetics may have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sudden vision changes
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Poor circulation
- Poor sleep
- Feeling very tired much of the time
- Very dry skin
- Sores that are slow to heal
- More infections than usual
What Causes Diabetes?
Possible Causes of Diabetes
There are several different types of diabetes,
- Type 1 Diabetes also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, usually develops before age 20 and makes up 5 to 10% of all diabetes cases. With type 1, the insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system as a response to a viral infection or some other potentially stressful condition affecting the body. This results in zero insulin production by the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease.
- Type 2 Diabetes also known as maturity-onset diabetes, occurs in people older than 40 and makes up 90 to 95% of those with diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas may still produce some insulin but not in large enough quantities to properly metabolize the sugar in the blood stream. Heredity predisposes an individual to this type of diabetes. Insulin injection is not usually required if the diet is appropriate and wholesome. It is important to nourish the body with “complex” carbohydrates and a high fiber diet and eliminate sugary, processed and refined foods. Obesity, diet, race, age, lack of exercise, and heredity are all contributing risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is most common among Latinos, American Indians, African-Americans and American-Asians.
- Gestational Diabetes is another form of type 2 diabetes that develops during pregnancy and affects about 4% of pregnant women. Hormonal resistance to insulin causes gestational diabetes. The condition usually disappears after delivery; however, it is a sign that a woman is at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Diabetes Insipidus is a rare form of diabetes usually caused by the deficiency of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) from the pituitary and more rarely by the failure of the kidneys to respond to normal levels of ADH.
- Diabetes and Oxidative Stress Most researchers are in basic agreement that the theory of oxidative stress is central to explaining the cause of diabetes. To understand the theory, one must first conceptualize that a “free radical” is any atom or molecule which has an “unpaired electron” in it’s outer ring. Because it is lacking an electron, it is unstable and very much wants to find one electron to fill its need. This “free radical” will steal an electron from any other molecule it encounters that is more willing to give one up . . . and thus it becomes satisfied . . . but now the victim molecule has become a free radical itself and so it now will look for another victim molecule to steal it’s much desired electron from . . . thus propagating this cycle over and over again. This cycle is called “the chain reaction of free radicals”.To prevent free radical damage the body has a defense system of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principle antioxidants are: glutathione, SOD (superoxide dismutase), beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C, CoQ10, melatonin, and alpha lipoic acid.And if that were not bad enough . . . free radicals deplete our body’s reserve of antioxidants . . . further contributing to the problem.There is still a lot to learn about the causes of diabetes, but what is known, is that our bodies may begin to malfunction five to seven years before we are ever diagnosed with diabetes. That is why researchers believe that nearly 30-50% of the people who have diabetes don’t even know it.
- This is why it is so important to lower the oxidative stress with better diet, more exercise, improved lifestyle; and to take all the antioxidant supplements known to neutralize the excess free radicals.
- According to the theory of oxidative stress, free radicals run rampant through the body reeking havoc. In the case of type 1 diabetes . . . damaging beta cells in the pancreas, negatively impacting their ability to produce insulin . . . in the case if type 2 diabetes . . . damaging cell membranes, leading to a breakdown in intercellular signaling.
- The chief danger of free radicals comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs.
Risk Factors for Diabetes
The two major factors contributing to today’s alarming rise in diabetes are: poor diet and lack of exercise. In today’s fast paced culture, with its emphasis on “fast foods”, and it’s de-emphasis on exercise, more and more of us are eating unhealthy diets and choosing poor lifestyles.
Our typical diet has become way out of balance. We eat way too many simple sugars, way too often. Most people consume candy, french fries, potato chips, ice cream, pasta etc on a regular basis. We eat twice the calories we need, twice the protein we need, and each year the average person consumes over 160 pounds of sugars and sweeteners we don’t need at all.
When you consider that so many of us are overfed and so few of us get any regular exercise and then add to that the fact that many of us overuse alcohol and nicotine which increases oxidative stress. . . it’s no wonder that millions of us already suffer from diabetes, or are at great risk of developing diabetes in the near future.
The ever increasing number of overweight, out of shape, oxidatively stressed people in around the world, is directly proportional to the epidemic rise of diabetes.
The following is a list of risk factors for getting diabetes,
- Being more than 20% overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Having a first degree relative with diabetes (parents or siblings)
- Belonging to any of the following ethnic groups, African American, Native American, Latin American, Asian American, Pacific Islander.
- Having an “Impaired Fasting Glucose” (IFG) or “Impaired Glucose Tolerance” (IGF) on previous blood tests.
- Having Triglycerides (blood fats) which are more than 250 mg/dl.
- Having HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol ) which is less than 35 mg/dl.
- Having a history of hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Having a history of gestational (pregnancy-related) diabetes or giving birth to a baby which weighed more than 9 pounds.
Complications of Diabetes
The most important health impacts of diabetes are the long-term complications it can cause. Most of these long-term complications are related to the adverse effects diabetes has on arteries and nerves.
Complications related to artery damage
Diabetes causes damage to both large and small arteries. This artery damage results in medical problems that are both common and serious:
Cardiovascular disease. Diabetics have up to a 400% greater chance of heart attack or stroke. Heart disease and stroke cause about 65% of deaths among people with diabetes. These deaths could be reduced by 30% with improved care to control blood pressure and blood glucose and lipid levels.
Amputations. About 82,000 people have diabetes-related leg and foot amputations each year. Over 60% of non-traumatic lower limb amputations are diabetes related. Foot care programs that include regular examinations and patient education could prevent up to 85% of these amputations.
Kidney disease. About 38,000 people with diabetes develop kidney failure each year. Treatment to better control blood pressure and blood glucose levels could reduce diabetes-related kidney failure by about 50%.
Eye disease and blindness. Each year, 12,000-24,000 people become blind because of diabetic eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults 20-74 years old. Screening and care could prevent up to 90% of diabetes-related blindness.
Sexual Dysfunction. Approximately 70% of all adult males with diabetes currently suffer or will experience sexual dysfunction or impotence.
Complications related to nerve damage
60 to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. This diabetic neuropathy may result in numbness, tingling, and paresthesias in the extremities and, less often, debilitating, severe, deep-seated pain and hyperesthesias. The following are examples of diabetic neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy The feet and legs can develop tingling, pain, or a loss of feeling. This problem makes foot ulcers and foot infections more common, adding to the possibility that an amputation may be needed.
Stomach and bowel problems The nerves that trigger normal movements of the stomach and intestines can become less active or less predictable. This can result in nausea, constipation or diarrhea. A stomach that is slow to empty has a diabetes condition called gastroparesis.
Dizziness when standing Your circulation has to make some adjustments to move blood from your toes to your torso when you are standing up, since it is pumping against gravity. When your body is working correctly, this adjustment includes tightening of blood vessels to prevent pooling of blood in your lower body. The circulation relies on nerve signals to know when to make this adjustment. These signals can fail in diabetes, leaving you with low blood pressure and lightheadedness when you are standing.
Sexual-function problems Impotence is especially common in people with nerve damage from diabetes. Artery damage also contributes to impotence.
Localized nerve failures A nerve that controls a single muscle can lose its function. Examples of problems that might result are eye movement problems with double vision, or drooping of the cheek on one side of the head (commonly known as Bell’s palsy).
- Flu- and pneumonia-related deaths. Each year, 10,000-30,000 people with diabetes die of complications from flu or pneumonia. They are roughly three times more likely to die of these complications than people without diabetes.
- Pregnancy complications. About 18,000 women with preexisting diabetes deliver babies each year, and an estimated 135,000 expectant mothers are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. These women and their babies have an increased risk for serious complications.
Many of these potential complications can significantly shorten the life of a person with diabetes, and all of them can diminish the quality of life.
Prevention of Diabetes
There is no foolproof way to prevent diabetes, but steps can be taken to improve the chances of avoiding it,
- Exercise. Studies of both men and women have shown that vigorous exercise, even if done only once a week, has a protective effect against diabetes. Exercise not only promotes weight loss but lowers blood sugar as well.
- Lose Weight. There is evidence that both men and women who gain weight in adulthood increase their risk of diabetes. A study conducted at Harvard showed that adult women who gained 11 to 17 pounds since the age of 18 doubled their risk of diabetes; those who gained between 18 and 24 pounds almost tripled their risk. Fact: 90 percent of diabetics are overweight.
- Diet. The use of a diet low in calories and in saturated fat is an ideal strategy for preventing Type II diabetes. (See the ADA guidelines stated in the TREATMENT section).
- Stop Smoking. Smoking is especially dangerous for people with diabetes who are at risk for heart and blood vessel diseases.
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