Monday, May 21, 2007

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the glucose in the blood is too high because the body can not use it properly or break it down properly. Glucose is usually obtained through foods such as rice and bread, and sweet foods when they are digested, as well as from the liver which produces glucose.

Insulin is a vital hormone essential for life. It is produced by the pancreas, which helps the glucose to absorb into the cell walls to use it for energy. When someone is diabetic their pancreas is either unable to make any insulin itself, or is only able to make very little insulin itself.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

There are a few main symptoms which are caused from untreated diabetes; needing the loo more often especially throughout the night, an increase in thirst, weight loss, tiredness, blurred vision, regular episodes of thrush and genital itching.

Type 1 diabetes symptoms are usually quick to appear and very noticeable, where as type 2 diabetes symptoms are usually slow to appear and can go unnoticed for a long period of time, and are less severe.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are two different types of diabetes, but the main aim for both types is to try and make the blood sugar, cholesterol, and pressure levels balanced. When these are balanced it means there is a reduced risk of developing certain diseases and conditions such as heart disease.

Type 1
Type 1 diabetes usually appears before the age of 40 (especially in childhood diabetes) and is when the body can not make any of its own insulin. It has to be treated by insulin injections, as well as diet and regular exercise.

Type 2
Type 2 is when the body can produce a small amount of insulin but not enough to help break the glucose down properly. This type of diabetes is usually common in people who are overweight, and people usually older then 40. In this type of diabetes tablets and insulin may be needed, but most of the time it can be controlled by diet and exercise, as well as weight loss in people who are overweight.

Who is likely to get diabetes?

Diabetes is quite a common condition and in the UK alone more then two million people suffer from it. There is also an estimated one million people who suffer from diabetes in the UK who are not aware of it. Out of the known sufferers of diabetes around three quarters of them have type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is usually more common in younger people, and is when the cells which produce insulin for an unknown reason are destroyed. This could be due to a viral infection triggering it off.

Type 2 diabetes is often common in elderly people and overweight, especially obese people, although it has been known to appear in children as young as seven. It is also more common in people who have a family history of diabetes, women who have given birth to large babies, and people of an Asian or African- Caribbean origin.

How do you treat diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes but its symptoms can be relieved very quickly by treatment. Type 1 diabetes is treated with regular injections of insulin which replace the insulin which can’t be produced by the body. Keeping a healthy diet, and doing regular exercise can also help to control symptoms, but doing that alone will not treat type 1 diabetes, insulin is required always.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated by just changing the diet and lifestyle of the person. Eating healthier and taking regular exercise can control this type of diabetes alone, but sometimes insulin injections or tablets are needed to help control the glucose levels.

How can you prevent diabetes?

There is no way to completely prevent diabetes if, one it runs in your family, and two when you get older. It is impossible to change your genes and your age, but it is possible to do everything you can to reduce the risk of diabetes.

There are some things you can do to help prevent the onset of diabetes. Keeping your weight to its ideal, eating healthily and taking regular exercise can help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately type 1 diabetes can not be prevented by changing your lifestyle but can be easily treated.

Although not completely preventable diabetes can be helped by a healthy lifestyle, and by doing this you are reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Are there any foods I should avoid?

There are many myths surrounding what foods diabetics can eat. It is not true that diabetics have to cut out all foods containing sugar such as chocolate bars, and cakes. Diabetics can eat everything that everyone else can eat. As long as they keep the sweet foods as part of a healthy diet, they are more then able to consume the same amount as anyone else.

There are no particular foods that diabetics need to avoid, as long as they are all part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Can supplements such as vitamins and minerals help to control diabetes?

There are some minerals and vitamins that are involved in the process of blood sugar metabolism and play a role in the way insulin works. The most commonly known are chromium which is known to break down the sugars, helping the glucose tolerance level within the blood. This is sold as a supplement by most supplement companies, and could help to control diabetes, although anyone diabetic should consult their doctor first before taking this supplement.

Other vitamins and minerals known to help are vitamin C. This vitamin is known to help to decrease a sugar like substance called sorbitol which tends to accumulate in the cells of diabetics. Again with any supplement diabetics should consult their doctor first before taking vitamin C as a supplement.

What kind of research has been done on diabetes?

There have been many clinical studies conducted on diabetes for various different reasons, to look for cures and to look for risks too.

One particular Canadian recent study has looked at diabetes and how it increases the risk of diseases such as heart disease. This trial showed shocking results that in general people who have diabetes are at risk from heart disease, strokes, and death from similar conditions, as that of someone who is 15 years older then them, without diabetes.

This is a huge leap in risk factor for diabetics, and could essentially mean that their lifespan could be shorter. The study did show that age was an important factor in the level of risk in developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Just like people who don’t have diabetes, age is a major factor in the development of cardiovascular problems for people with diabetes. For example a 70 year old with diabetes is at higher risk then a person who is 40 with diabetes too. This would be the same for people who don’t suffer from diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association around 65% of people who have diabetes end up dying from heart disease, strokes and other cardiovascular problems. This has lead to the use of aggressive treatment in therapy for diabetes, to lower the risk of developing these diseases. There have been trials with people who have diabetes, trying up to 10 drugs a day. This aggressive treatment may bring out results that can help to reduce the high risk factors of developing cardiovascular conditions.

Many other trials have been and are being conducted on trying to find a cure for diabetes. Diabetes UK is currently funding groundbreaking research in this field in Canada by British researchers. They are implanting cells that are responsible for producing insulin into people with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when a person’s body is unable to produce insulin itself as the cells that produce it are damaged. The trials which have been ongoing since 1977 will hopefully have a safe and positive result, which can help people with diabetes in the future.

The Diabetes Research Laboratories (DRL) in the UK has been conducting various trials on diabetes to find out various things. A main study on diabetes and genetics has discovered that even if two people with the exact same diabetes, i.e. same blood glucose level, age of diagnosis, gender, age, etc, can have different susceptibility to developing complications. This has suggested that it is a particular genetic cause which could be causing this risk of complications.
People who had the exact same levels, age, etc with diabetes were studied, where one had complications and others didn’t. Their genes were studied and they showed that genes could be the reason why one had complications with their diabetes and the others didn’t.

There have also been many more clinical trials and scientific research conducted on diabetes. Although much research has been done unfortunately there is still no cure for this disease, and it still remains a serious disease which can cause death and many health complications.

Could I have diabetes?

Diabetes could technically occur in anyone at any time, but it is mostly present in older people, overweight people, and then in younger people who aren’t capable of producing insulin their self, which usually appears at some point through childhood.

If you have diabetes in your immediate family members (mother, father, or siblings) then you are more at risk of developing it then someone who doesn’t have it in their family. This does not mean you will develop it though, if someone in your family does have it then it does not guarantee you will develop it.

If you have suffered from side effects such as tiredness, increased thirst, weight loss, needing the loo more often, blurred vision, and regular thrush infections, you should consult your doctor as you may have diabetes. Even with these symptoms it does not mean you do have diabetes they can be symptoms of other problems too.

The best way to find out if you have diabetes or not is to visit your doctor, or go and have a free diabetes test which is now available at most pharmacies.

Jahir Ahmed

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