Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by the body’s inability to properly respond to insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. Insulin acts like a key, allowing cells to absorb blood sugar when levels are elevated. It also aids in storing excess sugar in the liver for later use when blood sugar decreases between meals.
When the pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin, or when cells become resistant to it, a condition known as hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, ensues.
There are two primary types of diabetes:
1. Type 1 diabetes: In this form, the body is unable to produce insulin. This is typically due to damage or destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas responsible for insulin production. People with type 1 diabetes rely on insulin injections or pumps to manage their blood sugar levels.
2. Type 2 diabetes: Here, the issue lies in cells not responding effectively to insulin or developing resistance to it. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with lifestyle changes, oral medications, and, in some cases, insulin therapy. It tends to progress over time, and individuals with type 2 diabetes may eventually become insulin-dependent.
As diabetes has become a growing public health concern in the United States, awareness of the disease’s causes and prevention through diet and exercise has increased. The good news is that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable and reversible through dietary and lifestyle changes. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is believed to have environmental and uncontrollable factors that trigger an autoimmune response, leading to pancreas dysfunction and insufficient insulin production.
Risk factors for diabetes include family history, genetics, geography (with type 1 diabetes being more prevalent farther from the equator), and age, particularly in the 4-7 and 10-14 age groups.
Recent studies have raised concerns about uncontrollable factors, such as exposure to chemicals, impacting the risk of type 2 diabetes. While there isn’t enough research to establish a link between chemical exposure and type 1 diabetes, there may be a connection between chemical exposure and type 2 diabetes in combination with a high-carbohydrate or high-fat diet later in life.
Traditionally recognized contributors to type 2 diabetes include family history, obesity, lack of exercise, and aging. However, environmental chemicals, such as arsenic, bisphenol A (BPA), cadmium, and mercury, have been identified as new potential risk factors for diabetes. These chemicals are often found in contaminated water, air, and food sources, making them challenging to avoid.
Common signs and symptoms of diabetes include increased hunger and fatigue, frequent urination, dry mouth, blurred vision, yeast infections, slow-healing sores or cuts, and numbness or pain in the extremities. Early detection is essential, as diabetes can cause long-term damage if left untreated.
Diagnosing diabetes involves various tests, including the A1C blood test, which measures the average blood sugar level over the past few months. Regular check-ups and monitoring of glycated hemoglobin (A1C) can help detect diabetes early.
In Part Two of this series, we will explore treatment options for diabetes. In the meantime, consider adopting a healthier lifestyle by exercising regularly, reducing sugar intake, and minimizing exposure to environmental pollutants to reduce your risk of diabetes.