To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of the food is broken down into a simple sugar called "glucose." Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to these cells where it can be used to provide the energy the body needs for daily activities.
Hypoglycemic reactions are promptly treated by giving carbohydrates (orange juice, hard candy, honey, or any sugary food); if necessary, subcutaneous or intramuscular glucagon or intravenous dextrose (if the patient is not conscious) is administered. Hyperglycemic crises are treated initially with prescribed intravenous fluids and insulin and later with potassium replacement based on laboratory values.
The roots of type 2 diabetes remain in insulin resistance and pancreatic failure, and the blame for the current diabetes epidemic lies in an overall dietary pattern emphasizing meat, dairy products, and fatty foods, aided and abetted by sugary foods and beverages, rather than simply in sugar alone. A diet emphasizing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes and avoiding animal products helps prevent diabetes and improves its management when it has been diagnosed.
"We know that there is a very large genetic component," Rettinger says. "A person with a first-degree relative with Type 2 diabetes has a five to 10 time higher risk of developing diabetes than a person the same age and weight without a family history of Type 2 diabetes." Heredity actually plays a larger role in Type 2 diabetes than Type 1, Rettinger says.
Poor vision, limited manual dexterity due to arthritis, tremor, or stroke, or other physical limitations may make monitoring blood glucose levels more difficult for older people. However, special monitors are available. Some have large numerical displays that are easier to read. Some provide audible instructions and results. Some monitors read blood glucose levels through the skin and do not require a blood sample. People can consult a diabetes educator to determine which meter is most appropriate.
Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin, a life-saving treatment. Patients will need to take insulin several times a day for the rest of their lives. They will usually learn how to self-administer this. Insulin is usually given through injections under the skin, normally two to four times a day. An increasing number of patients with type 1 diabetes are being treated with ‘insulin pumps’, which provide a continuous supply of insulin.
Not all people with diabetes need drug therapy. A healthy eating plan and exercise alone can be enough if the person makes significant lifestyle changes. Other signs, symptoms, and complications also may need treatment. For example, nutritional deficiencies should be corrected, heart or kidney disease may need to be treated, and vision must be checked for eye problems like diabetic retinopathy.
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level by promoting the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.
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).
A final note about type 1: Some people have a "honeymoon" period, a brief remission of symptoms while the pancreas is still secreting some insulin. The honeymoon phase typically occurs after insulin treatment has been started. A honeymoon can last as little as a week or even up to a year. But the absence of symptoms doesn't mean the diabetes is gone. The pancreas will eventually be unable to secrete insulin, and, if untreated, the symptoms will return.
Fatigue and muscle weakness occur because the glucose needed for energy simply is not metabolized properly. Weight loss in type 1 diabetes patients occurs partly because of the loss of body fluid and partly because in the absence of sufficient insulin the body begins to metabolize its own proteins and stored fat. The oxidation of fats is incomplete, however, and the fatty acids are converted into ketone bodies. When the kidney is no longer able to handle the excess ketones the patient develops ketosis. The overwhelming presence of the strong organic acids in the blood lowers the pH and leads to severe and potentially fatal ketoacidosis.
With such a surplus of food nowadays, it's easy to overindulge without physical activity, leading to weight gain and, for some people, eventual Type 2 diabetes. "It's a lack of exercise and still eating like you're 20 years old," says Susan M. De Abate, a nurse and certified diabetes educator and team coordinator of the diabetes education program at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
Although some people with this type of diabetes are thin, the majority of people (90%) are overweight. Losing weight, even 2 kg to 5 kg (5 lbs to 10 lbs) can help lower blood glucose levels. For many people, following a healthy diet and an exercise program may be all that is needed to help control glucose levels. For others, healthy eating and exercise alone aren't enough to lower blood glucose levels.
With type 1, a disease that often seems to strike suddenly and unexpectedly, the effects of environment and lifestyle are far less clear. But several theories attempt to explain why cases of type 1 have increased so dramatically in recent decades, by around 5 percent per year since 1980. The three main suspects now are too little sun, too good hygiene, and too much cow's milk.
Longer-term, the goals of treatment are to prolong life, reduce symptoms, and prevent diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of limbs. These goals are accomplished through education, insulin use, meal planning and weight control, exercise, foot care, and careful self-testing of blood glucose levels. Self-testing of blood glucose is accomplished through regular use of a blood glucose monitor (pictured, right). This machine can quickly and easily measure the level of blood glucose based by analysing the level from a small drop of blood that is usually obtained from the tip of a finger. You will also require regular tests for glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). This measures your overall control over several months.
There is an overall lack of public awareness of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Making yourself aware of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes is a great way to be proactive about your health and the health of your family members. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it’s possible that you have (or your child has) type 1 diabetes. A doctor can make that diagnosis by checking blood glucose levels.
Other potentially important mechanisms associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance include: increased breakdown of lipids within fat cells, resistance to and lack of incretin, high glucagon levels in the blood, increased retention of salt and water by the kidneys, and inappropriate regulation of metabolism by the central nervous system. However, not all people with insulin resistance develop diabetes, since an impairment of insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells is also required.
Glucose in your body can cause yeast infections. This is because glucose speeds the growth of fungus. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat yeast infections. You can potentially avoid yeast infections by maintaining better control of your blood sugar. Take insulin as prescribed, exercise regularly, reduce your carb intake, choose low-glycemic foods, and monitor your blood sugar.