What Is Diabetes
Foot Care Warning
One of the main health concerns in Diabetes is protection of your feet! Always wear closed toe shoes that fit comfortably. Check your feet daily. Be aware of any cut or blisters. Watch these carefully and see your doctor if they show any sign of infection or do not heal!!!
Are you eating more and more, but not gaining weight? Do you eat and eat, but never feel full? If you answer yes to these questions you may have a condition called Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes Mellitus is a condition in which the pancreas stops making sufficient amounts of insulin and…uh…you are gazing at me with a blank look on your face. OK, let’s break this down a bit.
First, for your safety, I will tell you the main signs and symptoms of Diabetes. Although Diabetes is a condition that afflicts many people who live long and fruitful lives, it can be fatal if not diagnosed. We will go into details later, first read these symptoms.
Main Symptoms of Diabetes:
- Increased Thirst and Urination
- Extreme Hunger
- Weight Loss Despite Eating More than Usual
- Fatigue and Irritability
- Blurred Vision
- Slow Healing Sores and/or Frequent Infections
If you have 3 or more of these symptoms, go immediately to your doctor! Do not pass go, do not smell the roses…go get medical help! If you have been experiencing the top 3 for any amount of time, and your doctor cannot see you, go to the nearest emergency room.
Types of Diabetes
(Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the following is a very simplified version of what the body does.)
I will only mention two forms of Diabetes here:
Type I Diabetes usually occurs during childhood or adolescence, but can occur at any age. Type I Diabetes is caused by the body attacking itself (autoimmune disease), and is generally thought to be caused by genetic malfunction or virus. The actual cause is not well understood. Little or no insulin is produced by the body in Type I Diabetes.
Type II Diabetes usually occurs in adults. The main risk factors are being overweight, sedentary, having a family history of Diabetes, certain races and increased age. The symptoms come on gradually and someone can be diabetic for a long time without realizing it. As more and more children become obese, the incidence of this type of Diabetes is growing in adolescents and young adults.
What is Insulin and Why Does My Body Need It?
All the food we eat is broken down by our bodies to glucose (think of glucose as the generic form of sugar). The cells in our body are the factories of life. They produce most of what is necessary to maintain old tissue and grow new tissue. Hormones are like messengers and escorts. They either deliver messages to other parts of the body, or escort something necessary for production into the cells.
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by our bodies in the pancreas. Insulin is the escort that allows sugar to get into our cells. Insulin is the only escort that is allowed to bring glucose into the cells.
Why is Glucose so Important?
Glucose is the fuel of the cell factories. Cells without glucose are like cars without gasoline…they do not work. Lately, there has been a big push for alternate fuel sources for cars. This is not so in the human body. There is NO alternate fuel source for your cells. If glucose is not available to your cells they will start to break down and “eat” cells in your body for food. (This process, named “catabolism”, always reminds me of “cannibalism”.) It is ironic to think that, if you have Diabetes, you could effectively die of starvation while eating more than ever. (This does not happen, because the side effects of having undiagnosed Diabetes will kill you first!)
What is Insulin Resistance?
Maybe your doctor has told you that you don’t really have Diabetes, you have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when, for some unknown reason, your cells stop accepting insulin as glucose’s escort. They become forgetful with age and forget that they should let insulin bring glucose in. They remember at times and then do allow some of the glucose in.
People who are told they are insulin resistant usually have plenty of glucose and insulin floating around, but without the cell’s recognition, these are left, cold and lonely, on the dark highways of the blood stream. Because some of the glucose is admitted into the cells, individuals with insulin resistance do not usually experience the symptoms of Diabetes.
Why Do I Feel So Hungry All the Time?
When your cells are low on fuel, they put a call into your brain telling you that you are hungry. If the glucose is not getting into your cells, a vicious cycle occurs. The cells need fuel, they call the brain, and you eat. The cells still need fuel, they call the brain, and you eat again. Soon, you realize that you are hungry and eating all the time, but you are not gaining weight…and may even be losing weight.
Why Am I So Thirsty and Need to Pee So Often?
Normally when you eat, your body secretes insulin and insulin allows the glucose to get into the cells. This process changes when you have Diabetes. You no longer excrete the necessary insulin, so instead of going into the cells, the glucose stays in your blood stream. Your blood stream likes balance, if there are too many solids, it will take liquid from the cells to even itself out. The cells then tell the brain they need more liquids. You get thirsty.
The kidneys' filtering system is one way our bodies get rid of too many solids in the bloodstream. When the kidneys learn that the blood has too many solids, they start working overtime to clear this up. Thus, you need to urinate more frequently.
Why Am I So Tired and Irritable?
Lack of glucose causes your body to believe it is not being fed. The brain requires a great deal of glucose to function normally. When glucose is not available your body conserves energy making you tired and irritable.
- American Diabetes Association
The American Diabetes Association (ADA)is the number one resource in the United States of America for people with Diabetes. They are leaders in current Diabetes research and information. The ADA maintains a call center to answer questions.
- MedlinePlus: Diabetic Diet
The National Institutes of Health maintains this web site to help people understand the Diabetic Diet. Included are the basics of the diet, an interactive meal planning tutorial and some delicious recipes to get you started.
What Do I Do Now?
If you think you may have Diabetes, the first step is to see your doctor. There are many options available, so don’t think that you will have to give yourself shots for the rest of your life! Options have improved greatly over the years. Most people take a pill to control their Diabetes. Many people control their Diabetes through diet and exercise.
In the next section, I will discuss the what increases your risks for developing Diabetes and what you can do to minimize them.