Understanding Diabetes

The term diabetes is one that is used to describe a wide range of conditions revolving around the body’s ability to appropriately manage blood glucose levels. Some involve a decrease in the body’s ability to produce insulin, which decreases blood glucose levels, while others involve a body’s inability to respond appropriately to insulin when it is released. They may be autoimmune, a result of a genetic predisposition, or secondary to diet and lifestyle but though they are all quite different, the many potential complications of diabetes are all related to one thing: poorly controlled blood glucose levels. Diabetes continues to become an ever-evolving problem, as it is predicted that 1 in 4 people born today in the U.S.A. will develop diabetes in their lifetime. It may be shocking but more importantly, it should be an indication of the role we must play in protecting future generations from this disease.

Type I Diabetes has historically been referred to as juvenile diabetes, and Type II Diabetes as adult-onset diabetes but as the incidence of diabetes has increased to relative epidemic levels, the line between the two has become blurred and it is now clear that any type of diabetes can occur at any age. Type I Diabetes is characterized by a decrease in the production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is what is released in response to an increase in blood glucose (i.e. after a meal) and enables absorption and utilization of glucose throughout the body. Without insulin, glucose levels remain high, resulting in long-term complication such as diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy, cataracts, atherosclerosis, and poor wound healing and acute complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis. Other, equally severe complications can occur from too much insulin, leading to hypoglycemia, or a decreased blood sugar level.

Type I Diabetes has many potential causes and risk factors, but the majority of people with Type I Diabetes are unable to produce insulin because autoimmune-mediated destruction of the pancreas. This means that one’s own immune system produces antibodies that attack and destruct pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin.

Type II Diabetes is characterized by a body’s inability to utilize glucose once it’s been taken up by insulin, occasionally in addition to a decrease in insulin production. Diabetes, particularly Type II, encompasses a broad range of disorders of varying severity. The risk factors for this type of diabetes can include genetic predisposition, diet, lifestyle, weight, and presence of other conditions, such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or syndrome x. Any sign of impaired blood glucose regulation and metabolism should be a sign of increased risk of diabetes, including gestational diabetes, hypoglycemia, and “prediabetes” or insulin resistance.
Diabetes is not a steady state. Just as there are many things that may predispose a person to diabetes, there are many things that can improve your ability to regulate blood glucose metabolism. Some of these things may be simple, lifestyle changes, and others may include medications such as insulin, or glucophage (a medication designed to decrease insulin resistance). Treating diabetes can be tricky because blood glucose levels are delicate and tipping them too severely in either direction can be serious. This is why people who take insulin have to monitor their blood glucose levels to ensure that they stay within the optimum range.

Natural treatments for diabetes vary depending on the severity and the individual picture. Type I Diabetes, being largely an autoimmune disorder, is treated in a way that modulates the immune system. Other treatments include vitamin D (autoimmune disease is much more predominant in individuals with vitamin D deficiency), plant sterols, and natural anti-inflammatory herbs. Treatments for prediabetes, or insulin resistance, may focus on increasing exercise, promoting a diet high in fibre, lean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and low in simple carbohydrates. More severe cases of diabetes may require more specialized treatment plans not only focused on improving the bodies ability to produce and respond to insulin, but also on supporting systems that may be stressed by poorly managed blood glucose levels. This may be the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the list goes on.

The good news is that while the effects of poor blood glucose regulation may not entirely be reversed, it’s never too late to take action and prevent further negative effects. Diabetes doesn’t define you nor does it have to predict your future health. As mentioned above, blood glucose levels can be delicate so it’s imperative that you make any changes in your medication and treatment plans under the guidance of your doctor.

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