What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which people have problems converting food to energy.

The food we eat is broken down into glucose, the basic type of blood sugar. It is the main source of energy for the body. For glucose to be used by our cells for growth and energy, we must have the proper amount of the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas.

When our body is working right the pancreas automatically produces the proper amount of insulin. Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas either produces too little or no insulin to convert glucose into energy.

When glucose levels in the blood rise, it passes out of the body in our urine. Our main source of fuel is literally flushed down the drain!

As Americans, we almost certainly know someone who has the disease – or we’re at risk for it ourselves. It is the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations, and a major cause of heart disease and stroke.

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The types of diabetes

The three main types of diabetes are:

  • Type 1 Diabetes

  • Type 2 Diabetes

  • Gestational Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes - an autoimmune disease

Often called juvenile onset diabetes, this is when the immune system turns against itself.

The body attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. A person who has Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily, usually by injection, to live.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States. It occurs equally among males and females, but is more common in whites than in nonwhites. It is seen most often in children and young adults, but it can appear at any age.

Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, extreme fatigue, weight loss, constant hunger, and blurred vision. If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person can lapse into a life-threatening coma known as diabetic ketoacidosis, and die.

Type 2 diabetes

About 90 to 95 percent of diabetics have Type 2. It is most common in older people and is referred to as adult onset diabetes. It occurs more often in African Americans, American Indians, some Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. Children and teenagers are increasingly being diagnosed with type 2.

About 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight.Some people have no symptoms but when they occur they are similar to those of juvenile diabetes. Unlike type 1 symptoms which usually develop over a short period of time, they come on gradually in the adult onset variety.

Gestational diabetes

This type of diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. It occurs more frequently in some ethnic groups, and women with a family history of diabetes. Within 5 to 10 years, there is a 20 to 50 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.


People with impaired glucose metabolism can be called pre-diabetic. People with pre-diabetes are at risk for developing diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.

However, studies suggest that weight loss and increased physical activity can prevent or delay diabetes.

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) means that blood glucose levels (as tested by a glucose tolerance test) are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.

About 35 million people ages 40 to 74 have impaired fasting glucose and 16 million have impaired glucose tolerance. Because some people have both conditions, the total number of U.S. adults ages 40 to 74 with pre-diabetes comes to about 41 million. (NIDDK) The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The modern management of diabetes

Before the use of insulin was pioneered, diabetes was a fatal disease. Although insulin is not considered a cure, its discovery in 1921 was the first major breakthrough in treatment.

Today, along with taking insulin via injection or an insulin pump, healthy eating and physical activity are the accepted management principles for diabetics. The amount of insulin taken must be balanced with proper daily food intake and daily physical activities. Blood glucose levels are closely monitored through frequent blood glucose checking with many new high tech devices making the previously painful task much easier.

Proper diet, regular exercise, and regular blood glucose testing are the basic management tools for type 2 diabetes. Many people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication or insulin injections to control their blood glucose levels.

Diabetics and pre-diabetics must take ultimate responsibility for their day-to-day health. Any lapse in attention or judgement may prove dangerous, or even fatal.

Much of the attention is centered upon keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. When blood glucose levels drop too low--a condition known as hypoglycemia--a person can become nervous, shaky, confused, have impaired judgment and may be subject to fainting or passing out.

A person can also become ill if blood glucose levels rise too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia. This is characterized by frequent hunger, frequent thirst and frequent urination.

Diabetics will often rely upon visits to endocrinologists, opthalmologists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and dieticians who often specialize in diabetes care and/or management.

The high fiber connection

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), sponsored by the (NIDDK), showed that keeping blood glucose levels close to normal reduces the risk of developing major complications of Type 1 diabetes.

One study published in the May 11, 2000 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine reports that diabetic patients who included 50 grams of fiber in their daily diet lowered their glucose levels by 10%.

Diabetes, high fiber Fifty grams is a lot of fiber; about twice as much as the American Diabetes Association recommends, and nearly 3 times as much fiber as most Americans consume in a day.

The high fiber diet also decreased insulin levels in the blood and lowered blood lipid concentrations in study patients with Type 2 diabetes.