History of diabetes: Past treatments and new discoveries Diabetes has been known for at least 2,000 years. Over the years, treatments have included exercise, riding on horseback, drinking wine, consuming milk or rice, opium, and overfeeding. It was not until 1921 that insulin was introduced as a treatment. Science has progressed, but diabetes remains a major health problem. Read now
Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes produce insulin; however, the insulin their pancreas secretes is either not enough or the body is unable to recognize the insulin and use it properly (insulin resistance). When there isn't enough insulin or the insulin is not used as it should be, glucose (sugar) can't get into the body's cells and builds up in the bloodstream instead. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it causes damage in multiple areas of the body. Also, since cells aren't getting the glucose they need, they can't function properly.
In type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes), the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, and more than 90% of them are permanently destroyed. The pancreas, therefore, produces little or no insulin. Only about 5 to 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 disease. Most people who have type 1 diabetes develop the disease before age 30, although it can develop later in life.
Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. Triglycerides are another type of fat carried in the blood. People with high levels of triglycerides have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can let you know what your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are.
The beta cells may be another place where gene-environment interactions come into play, as suggested by the previously mentioned studies that link beta cell genes with type 2. "Only a fraction of people with insulin resistance go on to develop type 2 diabetes," says Shulman. If beta cells can produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance, a factor that may be genetically predetermined, then a person can stay free of diabetes. But if the beta cells don't have good genes propping them up, then diabetes is the more likely outcome in a person with substantial insulin resistance.
The most common cause of acquired blindness in many developed nations, diabetic retinopathy is rare in the prepubertal child or within 5 years of onset of diabetes. The prevalence and severity of retinopathy increase with age and are greatest in patients whose diabetic control is poor.  Prevalence rates seem to be declining, yet an estimated 80% of people with type 1 diabetes mellitus develop retinopathy. 
The 1989 "St. Vincent Declaration" was the result of international efforts to improve the care accorded to those with diabetes. Doing so is important not only in terms of quality of life and life expectancy but also economically – expenses due to diabetes have been shown to be a major drain on health – and productivity-related resources for healthcare systems and governments.
Although there are dozens of known type 1 genes, about half of the risk attributable to heredity comes from a handful that coordinate a part of the immune system called HLA, which helps the body recognize nefarious foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's own immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, so perhaps it is no surprise that immunity genes are involved. Other autoimmune diseases share the HLA gene link, which may be why people with type 1 are more likely to develop additional autoimmune disorders.
Clear evidence suggests a genetic component in type 1 diabetes mellitus. Monozygotic twins have a 60% lifetime concordance for developing type 1 diabetes mellitus, although only 30% do so within 10 years after the first twin is diagnosed. In contrast, dizygotic twins have only an 8% risk of concordance, which is similar to the risk among other siblings.
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.
In addition to learning about diabetes itself, older people may have to learn how to fit management of diabetes in with their management of other disorders. Learning about how to avoid complications, such as dehydration, skin breakdown, and circulation problems, and to manage factors that can contribute to complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, is especially important. Such problems become more common as people age, whether they have diabetes or not.
Infections. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to a variety of tissue infections. The most commonly encountered is a yeast infection (Candida) and the presence of dry mouth further increases one’s risk (see PATIENT INFORMATION SHEET – Oral Yeast Infections). Typically, affected areas appear redder than the surrounding tissue and commonly affected sites include the tongue, palate, cheeks, gums, or corners of the mouth (see Right). There is conflicting data regarding cavity risk in the diabetic patient, but those who have dry mouth are clearly at increased risk for developing cavities.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or cells stop responding to the insulin that is produced, so that glucose in the blood cannot be absorbed into the cells of the body. Symptoms include frequent urination, lethargy, excessive thirst, and hunger. The treatment includes changes in diet, oral medications, and in some cases, daily injections of insulin.
Low glycemic index foods also may be helpful. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes a rise in your blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index raise your blood sugar quickly. Low glycemic index foods may help you achieve a more stable blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index typically are foods that are higher in fiber.
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Your blood sugar level can rise for many reasons, including eating too much, being sick or not taking enough glucose-lowering medication. Check your blood sugar level often, and watch for signs and symptoms of high blood sugar — frequent urination, increased thirst, dry mouth, blurred vision, fatigue and nausea. If you have hyperglycemia, you'll need to adjust your meal plan, medications or both.
Can type 2 diabetes be cured? In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, it is possible to manage the diabetes to a level where symptoms go away and A1c reaches a normal level – this effectively “reverses” the progression of type 2 diabetes. According to research from Newcastle University, major weight loss can return insulin secretion to normal in people who had type 2 diabetes for four years or less. Indeed, it is commonly believed that significant weight loss and building muscle mass is the best way to reverse type 2 diabetes progression. However, it is important to note that reversing diabetes progression is not the same as curing type 2 diabetes – people still need to monitor their weight, diet, and exercise to ensure that type 2 diabetes does not progress. For many people who have had type 2 diabetes for a longer time, the damage to the beta cells progresses to the point at which it will never again be possible to make enough insulin to correctly control blood glucose, even with dramatic weight loss. But even in these people, weight loss is likely the best way to reduce the threat of complications.
Considering that being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, it sounds counterintuitive that shedding pounds could be one of the silent symptoms of diabetes. “Weight loss comes from two things,” says Dr. Cypess. “One, from the water that you lose [from urinating]. Two, you lose some calories in the urine and you don’t absorb all the calories from the sugar in your blood.” Once people learn they have diabetes and start controlling their blood sugar, they may even experience some weight gain—but “that’s a good thing,” says Dr. Cypess, because it means your blood sugar levels are more balanced.
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Good metabolic control can delay the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. Loss of vision and blindness in persons with diabetes can be prevented by early detection and treatment of vision-threatening retinopathy: regular eye examinations and timely intervention with laser treatment, or through surgery in cases of advanced retinopathy. There is evidence that, even in developed countries, a large proportion of those in need is not receiving such care due to lack of public and professional awareness, as well as an absence of treatment facilities. In developing countries, in many of which diabetes is now common, such care is inaccessible to the majority of the population.
Type 2 diabetes, which is often diagnosed when a person has an A1C of at least 7 on two separate occasions, can lead to potentially serious issues, like neuropathy, or nerve damage; vision problems; an increased risk of heart disease; and other diabetes complications. A person’s A1C is the two- to three-month average of his or her blood sugar levels.