Everyone knows diabetes. Those who suffer from it have to inject themselves with insulin every day and have strict dietary restrictions – right? Not quite.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, that acts like a key to let glucose from the food we eat pass from the blood stream into the cells in the body to produce energy. All carbohydrate foods are broken
down into glucose in the blood. Insulin helps glucose get into the cells.
Not being able to produce insulin or use it effectively leads to raised glucose levels in the blood (known as hyperglycaemia). Over the long-term high glucose levels are associated with damage to the body and failure of various organs and tissues.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune cells attack the insulin-producing cells. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin and need insulin injections to survive. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and affects 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. While it usually affects mature adults, younger people are also now being diagnosed in greater numbers, as rates of obesity and people being overweight increase. Type 2 diabetes used to be called non-insulin dependent diabetes or mature onset diabetes.
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is diabetes that occurs in and is diagnosed during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. However, women with GDM are at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. Let us take a moment to review some the common myths surrounding diabetes.
Quick Fact Check
- 1. You get diabetes from eating too much sugar. Not exactly. First off, it’s important to distinguish between different types of diabetes. In people with type 1, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin – a hormone that allows your body to use sugar – because of a genetic disorder. With type 2, the body can’t process the insulin correctly. Type 2 is the “acquired form” of the illness, which roughly 90 percent of diabetics suffer from. The causes of type 2 include inertia and being overweight, a consequence of a diet too full of fats, carbohydrates and sugar. Type 1 diabetes, by comparison, is an autoimmune disease. Sugar is not a cause at all.
• 2. Only people who are overweight can get diabetes.
False. Yes, the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes is twice as high for overweight people compared to people with a “regular” weight – and even three times as high for severely overweight people. But in more than a quarter of overweight people, their metabolism remains healthy. That means that other risks play a role as well, like family disposition or age.
• 3. Diabetes is a “lifestyle disease.”
False. Cases of diabetes are increasing the world over, and in relative terms, type 1 is gaining ground on type 2. The reasons for this spike are unclear. The International Diabetes Federation and WHO count roughly 400 million cases worldwide. Eighty percent of them are in developing countries and emerging economies.
• 4. Only old people have diabetes.
False. Diabetes does occur among old people more often, but all age groups are affected. A 2014 study by the International Diabetes Federation determined that roughly half a million children have type 1 diabetes. Those who are afflicted by type 2 diabetes are getting younger and younger, too. The number of type 2 diabetes cases in children have multiplied by five over the last ten years.
• 5. Diabetics have to inject themselves with insulin every day
True and false. Type 1 diabetics must inject themselves with insulin, because their bodies can’t produce insulin independently. For type 2 diabetics, this is not the case, at least not right after they’re diagnosed. At first, the body can compensate for the insulin resistance by producing more of the hormone. The pancreas only slows down after many years, producing less and less insulin. At one point, insulin production can stop completely – and that’s when type 2 diabetics need to inject themselves with insulin as well.
• 6. Diabetes can’t be cured.
Half-right. People with diabetes type 1 have to rely on insulin for the rest of their lives. For type 2 diabetics, the situation is different. Being overweight and not moving enough can lead to diabetes. In turn, diabetics can basically hit pause on their illness by eating healthily and committing themselves to an active lifestyle. In this way, type 2 diabetes can be pushed back permanently or temporarily. It isn’t possible to cure diabetes with medication or surgery.
Hope for The Future
• Results published from the Journal of American Medicine association (JAMA) indicate a possible breakthrough in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered that a drug developed by the Leicester Diabetes Centre stopped diabetes in its tracks, slashed blood sugar levels and prevented patients from needing insulin. It is possible that this drug could be available on the market within the next three years.
• However, further trials are expected to be carried out, and a hope for the future remains. This is what we definitely know about diabetes.
•Type 2 diabetes is more common in people who don’t do enough physical activity, and who are overweight or obese.
•Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed with early lifestyle changes, however there is no cure (as of yet).
•Common symptoms include being more thirsty than usual, passing more urine, feeling tired and lethargic, slow-healing wounds, itching and skin infections and blurred vision.
•People with pre-diabetes can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by increasing their physical activity, eating healthily and losing weight (if they are overweight).
Written by Nigel Fereminga under the Zimbabwe Medical Students Association (ZIMSA)