Most people do not understand that not all diabetes is the same. Most people make assumptions about diabetes – especially Type One diabetes – based on their limited knowledge of Type 2 diabetes.
First of all, there have always been 3 types of diabetes. In recent years, a 4th type– known as Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), sometimes referred to as Type 1.5 – has been established to describe a slower-onset of type 1 diabetes in adults (as in slower than the crash-and-burn sudden need for insulin).
Meet the Pancreas
This phallic-looking organ (sorry - had to get that out of the way first), located behind the stomach, essentially does two jobs. It produces insulin (a hormone that converts the food we eat into energy for the body to use and also regulates blood glucose levels, which would otherwise be toxic) and enzymes which aid in digestion. Got that?
Okay – the 3 types of diabetes:
Type 1 – Pancreas produces no insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin by shots (or via an insulin pump) in order to survive.
Type 2 – Pancreas produces insulin, but either the body cannot efficiently use it or there is not enough insulin being produced. Type 2s typically take oral medications and focus on diet and exercise.
Gestational – Occurs in some pregnancies and goes away after the birth of the child.
You still following me?
The Burning Question – What Causes Diabetes?
Type 2. Well, as I said above, the pancreas just isn’t using the insulin efficiently (or there’s just not enough to go around). Insulin’s job is to keep blood glucose (aka blood sugar) in a healthy range – but if it doesn’t do its job, blood sugars go high and diabetes results.
Genetics appears to play a role – you may notice Type 2 diabetes runs in families. Genetics also plays a role in …
Obesity has long been fingered as a culprit of Type 2, but let’s clarify. For some reason, having too much body fat can cause insulin resistance. There appears to be a link between having diabetes and where fat is stored on the body – particularly too much fat above the hips. (However, there are plenty of type 2s who are not “fat.”)
Age. Half of all new diagnoses occur in people over age 55. Many folks tend to gain weight as they age, which is probably why more older folks seem to have type 2 diabetes. Incidentally, there has been a rise in type 2 diagnoses in children – attributed to many of these factors I have mentioned.
Inactive, Sedentary Lifestyle, in many cases combined with a high-calorie diet, can also lead to type 2. Again, this factor is a contributor to heavier weight and obesity. It is important to clarify that diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar.
But not all type 2 diabetics are fat, are they? That’s where genetics comes in. My maternal grandmother has type 2, and my mom is now taking medication for type 2. Grandmom is sure her mother had it as well, though she was never diagnosed. So where does this leave me? Thinking really hard about what I can do to prevent it.
And now, the reason for what I do…
Type One. Let’s break it down. The pancreas has little friends called beta cells. Let’s just say the pancreas is the boss, and the beta cells are the employees. They’re all doing a great job, until suddenly one day – a terrorist comes into their building and starts shooting all the employees. It may take some time to kill them all, or it may be over really quick. Either way, there’s no one left to do the job. The boss could hire new employees, but the terrorist will keep coming back. This is the body’s autoimmune response.
No one can definitively explain why this happens. In some cases, genetics is a factor. Some believe environmental factors are at work. I’m no expert, but I am firmly attached to the latter. My daughter’s type one diabetes came out of nowhere, with no genetics involved.
Often, Type One diabetes is precipitated by a virus. If you haven’t really been paying attention yet – this is the part where you want to wake up. Many, many children (and surely adults too) have presented with symptoms of illness that are often misdiagnosed as flu or virus and these children are sent home. For at least 3 documented children this year, this missed diagnosis cost them their lives. I’m going to be talking a lot more about this in my next post. It’s one of the main reasons many of us are stepping up and getting very loud about Type One diabetes, especially this month.
Finally, it is extremely important to understand that neither I – nor my then-2-year-old daughter – did anything to cause her diabetes. There is absolutely nothing I could have done to stop it. And – repeat after me – eating too much sugar does not cause Type One Diabetes.
If there’s one thing to remember today, and one thing you can tell your friends and family about Type One Diabetes, it’s that eating too much sugar does not cause Diabetes. Well, that – and that Type One and Type 2 are not the same. And I’ll talk about that too.
Oh – and – there is no cure.