You either have diabetes or you know someone who has it. Frankly, it’s a rampant disease in the United States, affecting great swaths of the population.
But despite the widespread nature of it, there is still a lot of ignorance surrounding that what, why, and how of the disease.
There’s good news when it comes to current diabetes research, but because we’re relatively ignorant of how the disease works, we’re not as excited as we should be.
That needs to change.
It’s time to understand diabetes and then take a look at all the thrilling things that are happening.
What Is Diabetes?
Before you can appreciate the significance of the new research, you need to understand a bit about diabetes.
Diabetes is a disorder that occurs when your blood sugar (blood glucose) reaches unusually high levels. Imagine a bunch of Snickers bars swimming around in your blood. While that’s not exactly how it works, you get the point. You’ve got too much glucose coursing through your system, which can cause serious issues.
Prolonged high levels of glucose can cause all manner of problems, such as:
- Eye problems like glaucoma
- Nerve damage
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Circulation issues
- And much more
Diabetes is no joke. Approximately 30.3 million people in the United States are afflicted by the disease and another 84 million are in the prediabetes stage.
Thankfully, it’s a treatable disease, and there are specific steps you can take to both prevent and treat it. If you know what to do when, you can wrestle glucose levels back under control and keep them there.
What’s The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Simple enough.
Type 1 diabetes affects only 5 out of the 100 people who have the disease, and it’s caused by a person’s immune system attacking the cells that release insulin. When all insulin production is eliminated, cells can’t absorb glucose, which is what they use to produce energy.
Type 2 diabetes can occur at any age and usually happens during adulthood. A person afflicted with this type of diabetes can’t use insulin effectively or right away, which is called insulin resistance. If it continues to get worse, the pancreas gets weaker and weaker, unable to produce much insulin. This is an insulin deficiency.
Researchers believe that there are least two factors that can lead to Type 2 diabetes:
- Genetics. If you come from a long line of diabetics, there’s a greater chance that you’ll develop it at some point. You can blame it on the family tree.
- Lifestyle: There’s no way of getting around it: if you don’t take care of yourself, there’s a higher chance you’ll develop Type 2 diabetes. If you’re allergic exercise and move only when necessary, you’re at a higher risk. If you have no issue with eating a pound of candy corn for dessert, you’re at a higher risk. If you’re overweight, you face the same risks. The way you choose to live is directly tied to your risk of the disease.
What Does Diabetes Do To The Body?
Diabetes is a terrible disease that wants to wreak havoc on your body. It’s a bull in a China shop, except the China shop is your body.
What exactly can it do?
Wreak havoc on your endocrine system. If your pancreas can’t produce or use glucose, it can cause a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. It can cause intense thirst, excessive urination, unconsciousness, and even death. Not fun.
Cause kidney damage. Your kidney is responsible for filtering the waste from your body. Diabetes can lead to kidney disease, which can result in seriously damaged kidneys and possibly the need for dialysis.
Can lead to heart disease and stroke. The disease increases the risk of you developing high blood pressure, which then puts a strain on your heart. Additionally, high blood glucose levels can cause fatty deposits on your blood vessel walls, which can eventually lead to hardening of the vessels.
Can cause nerve damage. Diabetes often leads to diabetic neuropathy (damaged nerves). This then dulls your ability to feel heat, cold, and pain, which may sound great but often leads to serious injuries. And, if you don’t notice these injuries, you can develop an awful infection.
There are a number of other ways diabetes can harm your body if left unchecked, such as destroying your vision, harming your reproductive system, creating various skin conditions, and a host of others.
Diabetes is a serious disease that must be treated with diligence.
New Research That Could Change The Fight Against Diabetes
Thankfully, diabetes is a treatable disease. It’s long been held in check through regular blood glucose tests to ensure that levels are stable. But that’s a practice that gets old very quickly for diabetes sufferers.
Things are changing though, in the world of diabetes. Various researchers are discovering new ways to treat and prevent the disease.
Here are some of the most exciting developments.
Reprogramming Skin Cells To Produce Insulin
This sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but it’s not. Scientists at the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill School of Medicine have been able to transform human skin cells into insulin producing cells. The hope is that in the future, reprogrammed skin cells could be transplanted into a person’s body, thus allowing them to produce insulin again.
Preventing Diabetes With Coffee
Coffee isn’t just for that boost in the morning. Researchers are beginning to explore whether drinking coffee could cut down on the risk of diabetes.
Andrew Curray reports:
Studies examining the links between diet and diabetes risk have shown that coffee drinkers have a slightly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease—and type 2 diabetes. Of all the foods we consume, “coffee has the most potential to prevent type 2 diabetes,” says Marilyn Cornelis, PhD, a nutritionist and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “With diabetes, the more coffee the better, according to epidemiological studies.”
That’s good news for coffee drinkers. If you don’t drink the wake up juice, now’s a great time to start.
Determining What Causes Type 1 Diabetes
We’ve long known that Type 1 diabetes is caused when the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Now researchers are trying to determine what triggers the immune system to launch the attack.
A properly functioning immune system recognizes that the pancreas is part of the body and shouldn’t be attacked. With Type 1 diabetes, this recognition doesn’t happen.
The American Diabetes Society recently awarded a grant to Thomas Delong, believing he and his colleagues may be able to uncover the secret.
Identifying The Connection Between Stress and Type 2 Diabetes
Researchers are beginning to realize that chronic stress can play a significant role in creating adult onset diabetes (Type 2). This insight is helping them understand why some populations are more affected by the disease than others.
Andrew Curray says:
When cortisol levels are consistently high [because of stress] but there’s no physical activity to buffer the effects of chronic stress, the consequences may contribute to type 2 diabetes. Higher cortisol results in higher insulin resistance, for example, forcing the pancreas to produce more insulin to get a response. With ongoing insulin resistance, the insulin-producing beta cells wear out, causing type 2 diabetes.
If we can determine the role that stress plays in diabetes, we can begin taking specific action steps against it.
The Development Of An Insulin Patch
Currently, insulin pumps are considered the most effective and automated way of maintaining constantly glucose levels. However, a newly proposed insulin patch could clear the way for a dramatically different glucose delivery method.
The American Diabetes Association notes:
The design of the thin silicon patch – about the size of a penny – includes more than 100 microneedles – each the size of an eyelash. The microneedles are loaded with enzymes that are able to sense blood glucose levels and trigger rapid release of insulin into the bloodstream in response to high glucose.
Dr. Gu [who proposed the patch] and his colleagues have tested this technology in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes where it was able to effectively lower blood glucose levels for up to nine hours – a promising result that sets up additional pre-clinical tests (in animals) and, hopefully, eventual clinical trials (in humans).
The goal of the patch is to essentially mimic the pancreas, constantly monitoring blood glucose levels and then seamlessly adjusting them as necessary.
Diabetes is a brutal disease that affections millions of people around the world. Yes, it can be effectively managed. No, it’s not typically a life threatening disease (at least not immediately).
But it can cause significant health problems and requires constant vigilance to keep it in check.
As research continues, however, we should expect to see things improve. The future is bright for those afflicted by the disease.
And given that most people know someone with diabetes, that’s good news for all of us.