Sasigarn A Bowden, MD Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, Department of Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine; Pediatric Endocrinologist, Associate Fellowship Program Director, Division of Endocrinology, Nationwide Children’s Hospital; Affiliate Faculty/Principal Investigator, Center for Clinical Translational Research, Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes, is a group of diseases in which a person does not produce enough insulin, or because it does not respond to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels, which can lead to damage of blood vessels, organs, and nerves.
Although urine can also be tested for the presence of glucose, checking urine is not a good way to monitor treatment or adjust therapy. Urine testing can be misleading because the amount of glucose in the urine may not reflect the current level of glucose in the blood. Blood glucose levels can get very low or reasonably high without any change in the glucose levels in the urine.
Insulin Therapy. Exogenous insulin is given to patients with diabetes mellitus as a supplement to the insufficient amount of endogenous insulin that they produce. In some cases, this must make up for an absolute lack of insulin from the pancreas. Exogenous insulin is available in various types. It must be given by injection, usually subcutaneously, and because it is a potent drug, the dosage must be measured meticulously. Commonly, regular insulin, which is a fast-acting insulin with a short span of action, is mixed with one of the longer-acting insulins and both types are administered in one injection.
Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight (BMI greater than 25), and is harder to control when food choices are not adjusted, and you get no physical activity. And while it’s true that too much body fat and physical inactivity (being sedentary) does increase the likelihood of developing type 2, even people who are fit and trim can develop this type of diabetes.2,3
Women seem to be at a greater risk as do certain ethnic groups, such as South Asians, Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and Native Americans. This may be due to enhanced sensitivity to a Western lifestyle in certain ethnic groups. Traditionally considered a disease of adults, type 2 diabetes is increasingly diagnosed in children in parallel with rising obesity rates. Type 2 diabetes is now diagnosed as frequently as type 1 diabetes in teenagers in the United States.
The patient, physician, nurse, and dietician must carefully evaluate the patient's life style, nutritional needs, and ability to comply with the proposed dietary prescription. There are a variety of meal planning systems that can be used by the patient with diabetes; each has benefits and drawbacks that need to be evaluated in order to maximize compliance. Two of the most frequently used ones are the exchange system (see accompanying table) and the carbohydrate counting system.
There are many types of sugar. Some sugars are simple, and others are complex. Table sugar (sucrose) is made of two simpler sugars called glucose and fructose. Milk sugar (lactose) is made of glucose and a simple sugar called galactose. The carbohydrates in starches, such as bread, pasta, rice, and similar foods, are long chains of different simple sugar molecules. Sucrose, lactose, carbohydrates, and other complex sugars must be broken down into simple sugars by enzymes in the digestive tract before the body can absorb them.
A study by Dabelea et al found that in teenagers and young adults in whom diabetes mellitus had been diagnosed during childhood or adolescence, diabetes-related complications and comorbidities—including diabetic kidney disease, retinopathy, and peripheral neuropathy (but not arterial stiffness or hypertension)—were more prevalent in those with type 2 diabetes than in those with type 1 disease. 
No single environmental trigger has been identified as causing diabetes mellitus, however both infectious agents and dietary factors are thought to be important. Various viruses have been implicated in the development of type I DM. They may act by initiating or modifying the autoimmune process. In particular, the rubella virus and coxsackie viruses have been closely studied. In particular, congenital rubella infection has shown direct relationships with the development of type 1 diabetes mellitus. This is presumably due to the virus (or antibodies against it) damaging the beta cells of the pancreas. Some research has looked at dietary factors that may be associated with type 1 diabetes. In particular, cow’s milk proteins (such as bovine serum albumin) which may have some similarities to pancreatic islet cell markers may be able to trigger the autoimmune process. Other chemicals including nitrosamines have been identified as causes of diabetes mellitus in animal models, but not in humans.
What is type 2 diabetes and prediabetes? Behind type 2 diabetes is a disease where the body’s cells have trouble responding to insulin – this is called insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone needed to store the energy found in food into the body’s cells. In prediabetes, insulin resistance starts growing and the beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin will try to make even more insulin to make up for the body’s insensitivity. This can go on for a long time without any symptoms. Over time, though, the beta cells in the pancreas will fatigue and will no longer be able to produce enough insulin – this is called “beta burnout.” Once there is not enough insulin, blood sugars will start to rise above normal. Prediabetes causes people to have higher-than-normal blood sugars (and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke). Left unnoticed or untreated, blood sugars continue to worsen and many people progress to type 2 diabetes. After a while, so many of the beta cells have been damaged that diabetes becomes an irreversible condition.
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.
Exposure to certain viral infections (mumps and Coxsackie viruses) or other environmental toxins may serve to trigger abnormal antibody responses that cause damage to the pancreas cells where insulin is made. Some of the antibodies seen in type 1 diabetes include anti-islet cell antibodies, anti-insulin antibodies and anti-glutamic decarboxylase antibodies. These antibodies can be detected in the majority of patients, and may help determine which individuals are at risk for developing type 1 diabetes.
Finally, modern society should probably shoulder at least some of the blame for the type 2 diabetes epidemic. Access to cheap, calorie-laden foods may even influence type 2 risk beyond simply their effects on body weight; the stuff that is in processed foods, like high-fructose corn syrup, could alter the body's chemistry or gut microbes in a way that affects health. Add to that the fact that most Americans are sedentary, spending their time sitting in cubicles, driving in cars, playing video games, or watching television. The lack of exercise, plus the abundance of unhealthy foods, cultivates a fertile breeding ground for diabetes.
Insulin is released into the blood by beta cells (β-cells), found in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, in response to rising levels of blood glucose, typically after eating. Insulin is used by about two-thirds of the body's cells to absorb glucose from the blood for use as fuel, for conversion to other needed molecules, or for storage. Lower glucose levels result in decreased insulin release from the beta cells and in the breakdown of glycogen to glucose. This process is mainly controlled by the hormone glucagon, which acts in the opposite manner to insulin.
Rates of type 2 diabetes have increased markedly since 1960 in parallel with obesity. As of 2015 there were approximately 392 million people diagnosed with the disease compared to around 30 million in 1985. Typically it begins in middle or older age, although rates of type 2 diabetes are increasing in young people. Type 2 diabetes is associated with a ten-year-shorter life expectancy. Diabetes was one of the first diseases described. The importance of insulin in the disease was determined in the 1920s.
The word mellitus (/məˈlaɪtəs/ or /ˈmɛlɪtəs/) comes from the classical Latin word mellītus, meaning "mellite" (i.e. sweetened with honey; honey-sweet). The Latin word comes from mell-, which comes from mel, meaning "honey"; sweetness; pleasant thing, and the suffix -ītus, whose meaning is the same as that of the English suffix "-ite". It was Thomas Willis who in 1675 added "mellitus" to the word "diabetes" as a designation for the disease, when he noticed the urine of a diabetic had a sweet taste (glycosuria). This sweet taste had been noticed in urine by the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, and Persians.
Some people who have type 2 diabetes can achieve their target blood sugar levels with diet and exercise alone, but many also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy. The decision about which medications are best depends on many factors, including your blood sugar level and any other health problems you have. Your doctor might even combine drugs from different classes to help you control your blood sugar in several different ways.
Those dark patches on your skin could be more serious than a blotchy tan. In fact, they might be the first sign of diabetes. This darkening of the skin, which usually occurs on the hands and feet, in folds of skin, along the neck, and in a person’s groin and armpits, called acanthosis nigricans, often occurs when insulin levels are high. The high insulin levels in your blood can increase your body’s production of skin cells, many of which have increased pigmentation, giving skin a darkened appearance.
Over time, a prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage the nerves throughout the body — a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in people who have prediabetes as well. In some studies, almost 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by prediabetes or diabetes, says Dr. Einhorn.