Be Healthy: Understanding Diabetes


In this article I’m going to explain how your body processes the food you eat in order to provide all your body cells with the energy they need, and also what happens when you have diabetes and this system doesn’t work properly.

Glucose from Food Gives Us Energy

When you eat food that contains carbohydrate it’s broken down in the stomach and digestive system into glucose, which is a type of sugar. Carbohydrate containing foods are things like starchy foods, sugary foods, milk, and some dairy products and fruit. This glucose then moves into the bloodstream and the body detects that the blood glucose level is rising.

In response to that, the pancreas which is a little gland that sits just underneath the stomach, starts to release a hormone called insulin and it’s the insulin that helps our body get the energy from the food we eat.

The blood stream then takes the glucose and the insulin to every cell in our body that needs it. At the muscle cells it’s insulin that allows the glucose to get into the cells where it can be used for energy.

Insulin as a “Key” to Cell Doors

It’s a bit like, insulin is a key unlocking the door to the cells so the glucose can get in. That way, the blood glucose levels starts to drop but the blood glucose level can be topped up at any point by the liver releasing extra glucose that it has stored.

The blood glucose rises again, and again, the pancreas produces more insulin to move with that glucose through the bloodstream to the muscle cells, open the doors and let the glucose in.

When does Diabetes Develop?

The body functions best with the blood glucose at an optimum level. It doesn’t like it if the blood glucose rises too high. Normally, there’s a cycle within the body which balances out the glucose and the insulin level, and this is achieved by the food you eat, the pancreas and the liver. However, in some people the system doesn’t work properly and they develop diabetes.

2 Main Types of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

In this type of diabetes the body isn’t making any insulin at all. This is because of an autoimmune response whereby the body has destroyed the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. We don’t entirely know why that happens in some people and not in others.

It’s most often found in the in the under 40s and it’s by far the most common type of diabetes found in childhood. In Type 1 diabetes the carbohydrate-containing food is turned into glucose as normal.

That glucose then moves into the bloodstream. Normally the body would produce insulin to let that glucose into the cells but because into the cells but in ‘Type 1 diabetes’ there is no insulin being produced so the glucose can’t get into the body cells at all, so the level of glucose in the blood rises and rises.

Symptoms of ‘Type 1 Diabetes

1. Tend to go to the toilet a lot to pass urine

The body tries to lower the level of glucose, it tries to get rid of the glucose through the kidneys.

2. Get very thirsty

As the kidneys filter the glucose out of the blood, they also take a lot of water with it so the person with diabetes will get very thirsty.

3. Genital itching

The urine contains a lot of glucose and that creates an environment where it’s quite easy for bacteria to thrive so it’s also quite common to get thrush or genital itching.

4. Slow healing of wounds

In the same way the blood contains a high level of glucose as well so more bacteria than usual will tend to breed in flesh wounds and they might be slow to heal.

5. Blurred vision

Glucose can also build up in the lens at the front of the eye causing the liquid in the lens to become cloudy. It means that some people with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes can have blurred vision because the glucose can’t get into the cells to be used for energy.

6. Tiredness

Somebody who’s got undiagnosed ‘Type 1 diabetes’ is going to start feeling very tired, lethargic and unable to go about their normal daily routine.

7. Weight loss

The body still needs an energy source in order to work properly. It starts to break down the fats tools which leads to weight loss.

These symptoms generally happen quite quickly often over a few weeks and come be reversed once the diabetes is treated with insulin. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases in the population.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10 percent of all cases. It’s most common in the over 40 age group in the white population and in the over 25 age group in the South Asian population.

‘Type 2 Diabetes

This type of diabetes is a little more complex because there are slightly more processes at work. Either the body isn’t producing quite enough insulin or the insulin it is producing isn’t working properly. That can be due to being overweight because a build up of fat can stop insulin doing its job properly but it can also happen in people of a healthy weight.

So in Type 2 diabetes, the carbohydrate-containing food is broken down into glucose in the stomach and digestive system as normal. That glucose then moves into the bloodstream. The pancreas starts to produce insulin which moves with the glucose through the bloodstream to all the body cells which need glucose for energy.

However, the glucose can’t always get into the cells because the locks to the cell doors have become furred up with fat deposits. That means that the insulin can’t open the cell doors properly.

So the level of glucose in the blood continues to rise. In response to this, the pancreas produces even more insulin so the blood glucose levels continue to rise and the insulin levels continue to rise.

This situation is further complicated by the cells which are desperate for energy – sending out emergency signals to the liver to release stored glucose. The blood glucose level up and up and the pancreas produces more and more insulin until it can’t cope anymore and eventually it can wear out.

Symptoms of ‘Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Going to toilet a lot
  2. Thirst
  3. Thrush or genital itching
  4. Slow healing of wounds
  5. Blurred vision
  6. Weight loss

The symptoms for Type 2 diabetes come along very slowly and some people don’t have any symptoms at all. So for that reason, people can live with Type 2 diabetes for up to 10 years before they realize that they have it.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated in a number of different ways. Initially, it may be sufficient to make changes to the food you’re eating and to take extra physical activity or lose any weight that may be appropriate.

But Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition and most people will need some form of medication to treat it.


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