People with type 1 diabetes and certain people with type 2 diabetes may use carbohydrate counting or the carbohydrate exchange system to match their insulin dose to the carbohydrate content of their meal. "Counting" the amount of carbohydrate in a meal is used to calculate the amount of insulin the person takes before eating. However, the carbohydrate-to-insulin ratio (the amount of insulin taken for each gram of carbohydrate in the meal) varies for each person, and people with diabetes need to work closely with a dietician who has experience in working with people with diabetes to master the technique. Some experts have advised use of the glycemic index (a measure of the impact of an ingested carbohydrate-containing food on the blood glucose level) to delineate between rapid and slowly metabolized carbohydrates, although there is little evidence to support this approach.
Diabetes mellitus is a diagnostic term for a group of disorders characterized by abnormal glucose homeostasis resulting in elevated blood sugar. There is variability in its manifestations, wherein some individuals have only asymptomatic glucose intolerance, while others present acutely with diabetic ketoacidosis, and still others develop chronic complications such as nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, or accelerated atherosclerosis. It is among the most common of chronic disorders, affecting up to 5–10% of the adult population of the Western world. Its prevalence varies over the globe, with certain populations, including some American Indian tribes and the inhabitants of Micronesia and Polynesia, having extremely high rates of diabetes (1,2). The prevalence of diabetes is increasing dramatically and it has been estimated that the worldwide prevalence will increase by more than 50% between the years 2000 and 2030 (3).
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. (The pancreas is a deep-seated organ in the abdomen located behind the stomach.) In addition to helping glucose enter the cells, insulin is also important in tightly regulating the level of glucose in the blood. After a meal, the blood glucose level rises. In response to the increased glucose level, the pancreas normally releases more insulin into the bloodstream to help glucose enter the cells and lower blood glucose levels after a meal. When the blood glucose levels are lowered, the insulin release from the pancreas is turned down. It is important to note that even in the fasting state there is a low steady release of insulin than fluctuates a bit and helps to maintain a steady blood sugar level during fasting. In normal individuals, such a regulatory system helps to keep blood glucose levels in a tightly controlled range. As outlined above, in patients with diabetes, the insulin is either absent, relatively insufficient for the body's needs, or not used properly by the body. All of these factors cause elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia).
When it comes to diabetes, there's no real answer yet. Yes, science has begun to uncover the roots of this disease, unearthing a complex interplay of genes and environment—and a lot more unanswered questions. Meanwhile, there's plenty of misinformation to go around. (How often have you had to explain that diabetes doesn't happen because someone "ate too much"?)
In this health topic, we discuss hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), an extremely serious complication that can lead to diabetic coma and even death in type 2 diabetes. This serious condition occurs when the blood sugar gets too high and the body becomes severely dehydrated. To prevent HHNS and diabetic coma in type 2 diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly as recommended by your health care provider; check your blood sugar more frequently when you are sick, drink plenty of fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration.