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By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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What is Diabetes

Diabetes, also known by the name of Diabetes mellitius, represents a group of diseases linked to metabolism in which an individual possesses high sugar levels. This generally occurs either due to malfunctioning of the pancreas that doesn’t produce sufficient insulin or due to the lack of response of cells to the produced insulin.

This disease is classified in four main categories which are type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and “other specific types.” The last category refers to a collection of a few individual cases of diabetes that couldn’t be included in any of the previous categories.

The history of this condition is pretty vast and has been destroying the life of people throughout time. Its first mention was made by a Greek called Aretaaeus who described the nature of its affliction and named the bodily problem “diabetes” from the Greek word that meant “siphon.” The description was later included by Eugene J. Leopold in one of his writing and was the following: “For fluids do not remain in the body, but use the body only as a channel through which they may flow out. Life lasts only for a time, but not very long. For they urinate with pain and painful is the emaciation. For no essential part of the drink is absorbed by the body while great masses of the flesh are liquefied into urine.”

During the 17th century, physicians like Dr. Thomas Wills could determine whether a person suffers from diabetes by sampling urine. If the taste of the urine was sweet, the individual would be diagnosed with diabetes. Prior to the discovery of insulin, in 1921, people that suffered from diabetes were usually put out of its misery because their condition evolved to the point of coma. After the introduction of insulin in medical world, the two first main categories of diabetes were set because type one is viewed as insulin-sensitive, while type two isn’t.


The causes behind the onset of diabetes vary depending on the type. Type 1 diabetes is generally inherited, but triggered by some infections. Some research points towards Coxsackie B4 virus. Furthermore, a genetic element linked to its susceptibility was traced to HLA genotypes which are genetic identifiers that depend on the immune system. A particular characteristic of this group is that it is unrelated to one’s lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes often occurs because of a mixture between lifestyle factors and genetics. There are some lifestyle factors with a higher influence on its appearance such as lack of physical activity, obesity, stress, urbanization, and poor diet. The excess of weight is associated in proportions of 30 percent with the Japanese and Chinese cases, 60-70 percent in people living in Africa and Europa and 100% of those living in the Pacific Islands and Pima Indians. Additionally, there are dietary factors that also contribute to diabetes development like sugar intake that can come from sugar-sweetened drinks and foods, eating white rice, as well as saturated fats.

Moreover, there are some genetic defects in insulin action or processing such as gene mutations, receptor mutations and defects in proinsulin conversion that can also trigger diabetes. In some situations, the condition can be developed as a negative result of some drug adminsitration including thyroid hormone, statins, glucocorticoids, and ?-adrenergic agonists.

For those who aren’t genetically prone to its apparition, prevention of diabetes can be done by following a proper diet, avoiding unnecessary sugar intake, exercising on a regular basis, and having a good sleep schedule.

Signs & Symptoms

All types of diabetes are characterized by an increase in blood glucose and insufficiency in the organism. One of the first symptoms that appear in individuals that suffer from this medical disorder is a frequent desire to use the bathroom and a sensation of urination that is maintained constant throughout the day. This symptom appears because the insulin is either inexistent or ineffective and the kidneys are unable to filter it back to the blood, thus they become overwhelmed and draw the extra water in order to dilute glucose. Another common sign is unquenchable thirst that is, in fact, a result of the frequent urination.

In type 1 diabetes, individuals start losing weight without trying because their pancreas stops producing insulin which makes the organism attack the cells that usually generate insulin. Because the organism seeks for an energy source, it starts to break down fat and muscle tissue in order to generate required energy. While in type 2 diabetes people also experience a weight loss, it can be easily overlooked because it’s not that noticeable. Numbness and tingling in feet, hands, and legs represents a symptom called neuropathy, which occurs gradually over time. This can enhance when tighter blood control is achieved.

Other symptoms that characterize this bodily problem include dry or itchy skin, blurred vision, frequent cuts, or bruises that require prolonged healing periods and infections. Even though these signs are also associated with other diseases, they’re viewed as a part of diabetes when they represent a result of the excess blood glucose.

Diagnosing Diabetes

Recent research revealed that it is better for anyone over the age of 45 to take a diabetes or prediabetes test, even though he or she didn’t experience any of the above mentioned symptoms. These tests are highly recommended for those who are overweight or have previously experienced one of the characteristics signs.

In order to properly diagnose this condition, one should visit a specialized medical doctor. During the visit, a series of tests are more likely to be conducted, particularly if that person claims to have some of those symptoms. One of these tests is called A1C and is often utilized to detect type 2 diabetes. It reflects the average blood glucose level of the past three months, but it doesn’t show daily fluctuations. A percent of 5.7 to 6.4 on A1C indicates prediabetes and a percent of more than 6.5 shows that the person suffers from type 2 diabetes. Another popular test is OGTT or oral glucose tolerance test. This measures the level of glucose in the blood after the individual fasts for at least eight hours and two hours after the intake of a liquid that contains 75 grams of glucose that was dissolved in water. If the level situates between 140 and 199 mg/dL, the individual possesses a type of prediabetes named impaired glucose tolerance. If it is confirmed by a second test with a level of 200 mg/dL, it means that the person suffers from diabetes.

Although these blood tests represent a relatively good way of diagnosing diabetes, their results are not always accurate because they vary depending on the person that’s being tested and different tests. However, people should keep in mind that specialized healthcare providers take these differences into account when reading the test results and they’ll ask for additional testing if they don’t feel that the proper diagnosis can be put. Individuals shouldn’t be afraid of taking these tests and be aware of the fact that finding out if they’re predisposed or suffer from diabetes is better than not knowing because they can do something to either avoid or treat it.

Treatment for Diabetes

There is a wide spectrum of treatments designed for people that suffer from diabetes. From the less effective to the ones that have increased chances of success, scientists have been focusing on finding a cure for these individuals. This is generated by the high number of cases. For instance, in the United States there are 17.9 million individuals that suffer from this condition which makes it the third largest number in the world. Furthermore, one in ten adults possesses type 2 diabetes and one in five hundred children suffers from it. Additionally there are more than three hundred million individuals in the world that have it and approximately eighty percent of deaths caused by it occur in low and middle-income countries.

As we’ve previously mentioned, a series of healthy lifestyle choices that include weight control, diet and exercise offer the foundation for preventing or managing diabetes. On the other hand, there are cases too evolved in which the lifestyle changes are insufficient for the person. In these situations, medication can represent an option. The existent list of medication designed for diabetes can be sometimes long and confusing and because of this, a visit to a personal doctor is mandatory. The medication can be categorized in oral medication and injectable medication. Most of these are efficient due to stimulating the insulin release. Some examples of oral medication include Glipzide, Repaglinide, Nateglinide, Saxaglioptine, Rosiglitazone, Arcabose, and Miglitol. On the same note, some injectable medications are Pramlintide, Exenatide, and Liraglutide. Before the decision to follow any type of medical treatment is taken, one should take into account the possible side-effects and immediately stop the usage if any occurs.

While some people are ok with taking medication, there are others who believe it’s too risky for their organism and the negative effects are too high and prefer alternatives like dietary supplementation. These are generally based on a series of ingredients whose effects on glucose have been noticed throughout time, either based on tests or on people’s testimonials. Some of these ingredients are Ginseng, Chromium, Magnesium, Zinc, Aloe Vera, Vanadium, and Gymnema. For instance, Ginseng works because it enhances blood sugar control and glycosylated hemoglobin levels. The glycosylated hemoglobin in the blood that monitors blood glucose levels over time.

While most natural treatments promise the customer a high rate of success, people should properly read the labels before purchasing any type of products and don’t take everything for granted. It is important to look after remedies that have had good client testimonials, possess ingredients with few to no side-effects and drug interactions, and which don’t have a bad taste or are difficult to swallow. If by any chance during the treatment, a person notices any type of unwanted side-effect, the treatment should be immediately stopped and avoid the product until the side-effect disappears. If it persists, a personal healthcare provider should be consulted. While these treatments may be effective for some, lifestyle changes are also needed to maximize its effects.


“Diabetes-Overview” NHS Retrieved 14/7/2013
“Definitions, Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Melitus and Its Complications” World Health Organisation 1999
“Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease risk”