If you or a loved one struggle with diabetes you’re certainly not alone. One of the most prevalent health issues in the nation, the CDC estimates 29.1 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. That’s an astonishing 9.3 percent of the country’s population. Only about 1.5 million of the nation’s diabetics have type 1 diabetes, which is also sometimes referred to as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes.
In order to understand why diabetes is so prevalent in our nation it may help to first know what causes the two forms of diabetes.
What Causes Diabetes?
- Diabetics, whether type 1 or type 2, can’t create their own insulin. For type 1 sufferers this has nothing to do with life choices, rather it’s an autoimmune issue. Autoimmune diseases, to put it simply, are diseases that cause the body’s immune system to misidentify something normal as something bad, resulting in the use of defense measures. In the case of type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system sees a threat in the pancreas, and attacks the cells responsible for making insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes is commonly associated with obesity and a lack of physical activity, although hereditary factors play a role as well. Unlike type 1 diabetics, the pancreas of a type 2 sufferer continues to produce insulin. Unfortunately, the person becomes resistant to the body’s own insulin. As the disease progresses, the pancreas’s insulin production may decline, resulting in insulin deficiency.
Why Is Insulin Important to the Human Body?
If you’ve ever wondered how your body converts the food you eat into energy you can thank the pancreas. In addition to helping digest food and turn it into energy, it also regulates blood sugar, commonly referred to as blood glucose. Glucose is like batteries for cells and is generally their primary source of energy. In people with a properly functioning pancreas that blood glucose level is tightly regulated by the hormone insulin. Without insulin the battery that powers your cells (glucose) can’t be properly utilized.
For type 1 diabetics the glucose just sits in the blood instead of going into the cells. It’s like a remote control with batteries sitting next to it instead of inside of it where they belong. That’s why people with type 1 experience episodes of hypoglycemia, wherein they are hungry, thirsty and unwittingly tired. Although the glucose is in their blood, it’s not being used, so they feel as if they are severely lacking in energy.
Treatment Methods for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Not every person with diabetes must take insulin. Because some people with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, at least during the early stages of the disease, they may not need to self-administer more of the hormone themselves. Type 1 diabetics, on the other hand, will always need to test their blood sugar levels approximately four times a day and take insulin based on the results.
Type 2 diabetics whose pancreas has ceased insulin production will also need to take those measures.
There is currently no cure for diabetes, but many type 2 diabetics can adopt lifestyle changes to markedly improve their condition.
In a recent study, type 2 diabetics were tasked with exercising for 175 minutes a week and limiting their caloric intake to 1,200 to 1,800 a day. After a year of the regimen 10% of the study’s participants were able to get off their diabetes medication. Their blood sugar had actually improved to the point where they were no longer in the diabetes range. Newly diagnosed participants in that study experienced the best result, with 15 to 20% of them getting off their medication.
While diet and exercise aren’t a magic bullet, there is significant evidence suggesting it can, in some patients, have a dramatic effect on diabetes management and quality of life.
Get the Help You Need with St. Hope Foundation
If you would like to learn more about managing type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or you just have questions about the disease, please reach out to the skilled, compassionate diabetes care professionals at St. Hope. We offer a range of services, from diagnostics and diabetes treatment to behavioral health and depression counseling. You and your family don’t have to face diabetes alone, we’re here to help. Call us at 713.778.1300 or visit our new patient registration page to get started.