It’s a word that we’re getting pretty used to hearing, but is it a disease that we fully understand?
As you ponder what you know about diabetes, you might find yourself in the dark about quite a few things. For starters, what even causes diabetes?
Common answers that you might think of probably include hereditary and being overweight. While you’re correct on both counts, diabetes is a bit more complex than being either genetically susceptible to having it or being overweight and developing it.
To more accurately answer your question of what causes diabetes, let’s start with the basics. For example, insulin and blood sugar – what exactly do they have to do with diabetes?
When someone has diabetes his or her glucose production and insulin distribution are abnormal. This is dangerous because that glucose or sugar is the main source of energy for cells, and diabetes causes the sugar to build up in the bloodstream rather than make its way into the cells that need energy.
In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, which renders the person with little or no vital sugar in their cells, but instead this sugar builds up in their bloodstream.
In Type 2 diabetes, the same thing essentially happens as sugar begins to build up in the bloodstream once again. The difference is that in Type 2 or prediabetes the cells become resistant to the action of insulin and the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance.
I know it sounds a little complicated, if you’re still a little confused check out this great explanation to learn a little more.
So you’re either born with it or you’re overweight and develop it right?
In most cases of Type 1 diabetes, it takes years for the disease to surface, and it is believed that certain risk factors trigger it. You inherit risk factors from your parents, but that does not always mean you’ll develop diabetes, in fact there are many cases with identical twins in which one twin has Type 1 diabetes and the other does not! This is exceptionally perplexing since identical twins have identical genes. This leads researchers to believe that environment places a role. These environmental factors are still highly debatable, but some are believed to be cold weather, viruses, childhood diet, and whether or not you were breastfed as an infant.
In the case of Type 2 diabetes, people automatically assume a lot of things, especially since our country is experiencing a rapid increase of people with Type 2. As with Type 1 diabetes, many people with Type 2 diabetes still have a family history of the disease, are exposed to environmental risks, and not all are overweight. In fact, most overweight people never develop Type 2 diabetes, and many people with Type 2 are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
Therefore, if you are overweight or obese, you will not necessarily eventually develop Type 2 diabetes; however, it increases your risk. Another myth that many believe is that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. As a sugar fiend, I know that I need to limit my sugar intake for a plethora of health reasons, but I also know that sugar alone isn’t enough to cause full-blown Type 2 diabetes.
Whew…dodged that bullet. So Type 1, Type 2, and done, right?
No, not just yet, there is also gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women. Most women go on to rid their bodies of the disease after pregnancy, but a small percentage do not. With all these different types of the disease, it can’t be all that bad. I mean how serious can it really be if so many people live with it every day?
The answer is that diabetes is very serious. It claims more lives than breast cancer and AIDS combined, and two out of three people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke.
This is why as Americans we need to not just be familiar with the term, but need to understand the disease. The more we know about what causes it, the more we will know about how to prevent it.