Diabetes mellitus type 2 (also known as type 2 diabetes) is a long-term metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and relative lack of insulin. Common symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, and unexplained weight loss. Symptoms may also include increased hunger, feeling tired, and sores that do not heal. Often symptoms come on slowly. Long-term complications from high blood sugar include heart disease, strokes, diabetic retinopathy which can result in blindness, kidney failure, and poor blood flow in the limbs which may lead to amputations. The sudden onset of hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state may occur; however, ketoacidosis is uncommon.
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).
The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)
Diabetes is a serious and costly disease which is becoming increasingly common, especially in developing countries and disadvantaged minorities. However, there are ways of preventing it and/or controlling its progress. Public and professional awareness of the risk factors for, and symptoms of diabetes are an important step towards its prevention and control.
Type 2 diabetes typically starts with insulin resistance. That is, the cells of the body resist insulin’s efforts to escort glucose into the cells. What causes insulin resistance? It appears to be caused by an accumulation of microscopic fat particles within muscle and liver cells.4 This fat comes mainly from the diet—chicken fat, beef fat, cheese fat, fish fat, and even vegetable fat. To try to overcome insulin resistance, the pancreas produces extra insulin. When the pancreas can no longer keep up, blood sugar rises. The combination of insulin resistance and pancreatic cell failure leads to type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes mellitus, is likely one of the better-known chronic diseases in the world — and that's no surprise. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest in the United States alone, 30.3 million people, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population, has diabetes, and the majority of these people have type 2. (1)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Other studies have focused, not on sugar overall but specifically on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Many have found no significant relationship, apart from sugar’s extra calories that lead to weight gain. For example, the Women’s Health Study,8 the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study,9 the Black Women’s Health Study,10 and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis found no significant associations between sugar consumption and diabetes risk after adjustment for measures of body weight. Some studies have had mixed results, exonerating sucrose, but indicting glucose and fructose.12,13 And some studies have shown associations between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes that persist after adjustment for body weight.14,15