Sugar doesn't cause diabetes. But there is one way that sugar can influence whether a person gets type 2 diabetes. Consuming too much sugar (or sugary foods and drinks) can make people put on weight. Gaining too much weight leads to type 2 diabetes in some people. Of course, eating too much sugar isn't the only cause of weight gain. Weight gain from eating too much of any food can make a person's chance of getting diabetes greater.
Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease that affects more than 9 percent of the U.S. population, or about 29 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter — some 8 million people — remain undiagnosed. With complications including nerve damage, kidney damage, poor blood circulation, and even death, it’s important for us all to know the early signs of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is different. A person with type 2 diabetes still produces insulin but the body doesn't respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
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.
Complications of diabetes are responsible for considerable morbidity and mortality. The acute complications of diabetes are hypo- and hyperglycemic coma and infections. The chronic complications include microvascular complications such as retinopathy and nephropathy, and the macrovascular complications of heart disease and stroke. Diabetes mellitus is the commonest cause of blindness and renal failure in the UK and the USA. Other common complications include autonomic and peripheral neuropathy. A combination of vascular and neuropathic disturbances results in a high prevalence of impotence in men with diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy causes lack of sensation in the feet which can cause minor injuries to go unnoticed, become infected and, with circulatory problems obstructing healing, ulceration and gangrene are serious risks and amputation is not uncommon. Evidence from meta-analysis of studies of the relationship between glycemic control and microvascular complications (Wang, Lau, & Chalmers, 1993), and from the longitudinal multicenter Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) in the USA (DCCT Research Group, 1993), have established a clear relationship between improved blood glucose control and reduction of risk of retinopathy and other microvascular complications in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). It is likely that there would be similar findings for noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) though the studies did not include NIDDM patients. However, the DCCT included highly selected, well-motivated, well-educated and well-supported patients, cared for by well-staffed diabetes care teams involving educators and psychologists as well as diabetologists and diabetes specialist nurses.
Diabetes mellitus, or as it's more commonly known diabetes, is a disease characterized by an excess of blood glucose, or blood sugar, which builds up in the bloodstream when your body isn't able to adequately process the sugar in food. High blood sugar is an abnormal state for the body and creates specific symptoms and possible long-term health problems if blood sugar is not managed well.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus has wide geographic variation in incidence and prevalence.  Annual incidence varies from 0.61 cases per 100,000 population in China to 41.4 cases per 100,000 population in Finland. Substantial variations are observed between nearby countries with differing lifestyles, such as Estonia and Finland, and between genetically similar populations, such as those in Iceland and Norway.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (the beta cells). As a result, the body is left without enough insulin to function normally (i.e. it becomes insulin deficient). This is called an autoimmune reaction, because the body attacks itself and produces antibodies to its own insulin-producing cells, thereby destroying them.
Diabetes mellitus has been recorded in all species but is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older, obese, female dogs. A familial predisposition has been suggested. It is possible to identify two types of diabetes, corresponding to the disease in humans, depending on the response to an intravenous glucose tolerance test. Type I is insulin-dependent and comparable to the juvenile onset form of the disease in children in which there is an absolute deficiency of insulin—there is a very low initial blood insulin level and a low response to the injected glucose. This form is seen in a number of dog breeds, particularly the Keeshond, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd dog, Poodle, Golden retriever and Labrador retriever.
Some patients with type 2 DM can control their disease with a calorically restricted diet (for instance 1600 to 1800 cal/day), regular aerobic exercise, and weight loss. Most patients, however, require the addition of some form of oral hypoglycemic drug or insulin. Oral agents to control DM include sulfonylurea drugs (such as glipizide), which increase pancreatic secretion of insulin; biguanides or thiazolidinediones (such as metformin or pioglitazone), which increase cellular sensitivity to insulin; or a-glucosidase inhibitors (such as acarbose), which decrease the absorption of carbohydrates from the gastrointestinal tract. Both types of diabetics also may be prescribed pramlintide (Symlin), a synthetic analog of human amylin, a hormone manufactured in the pancreatic beta cells. It enhances postprandial glucose control by slowing gastric emptying, decreasing postprandial glucagon concentrations, and regulating appetite and food intake; thus pramlintide is helpful for patients who do not achieve optimal glucose control with insulin and/or oral antidiabetic agents. When combinations of these agents fail to normalize blood glucose levels, insulin injections are added. Tight glucose control can reduce the patient’s risk of many of the complications of the disease. See: illustration
Damage to small blood vessels can affect the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to eyes, specifically the retina, is called diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of blindness. Damage to the kidneys, called diabetic nephropathy, can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Damage to the nerves that supply the legs and arms and gastrointestinal tract is called diabetic neuropathy. Some people with diabetes who develop peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in the legs) and have poor blood flow to the legs may eventually need an amputation.
Threshold for diagnosis of diabetes is based on the relationship between results of glucose tolerance tests, fasting glucose or HbA1c and complications such as retinal problems. A fasting or random blood sugar is preferred over the glucose tolerance test, as they are more convenient for people. HbA1c has the advantages that fasting is not required and results are more stable but has the disadvantage that the test is more costly than measurement of blood glucose. It is estimated that 20% of people with diabetes in the United States do not realize that they have the disease.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), is common in people with type 1 and type 2 DM. Most cases are mild and are not considered medical emergencies. Effects can range from feelings of unease, sweating, trembling, and increased appetite in mild cases to more serious effects such as confusion, changes in behavior such as aggressiveness, seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death in severe cases. Moderately low blood sugar may easily be mistaken for drunkenness; rapid breathing and sweating, cold, pale skin are characteristic of low blood sugar but not definitive. Mild to moderate cases are self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and must be treated with intravenous glucose or injections with glucagon.
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.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a condition where nerve endings, particularly in the legs and feet, become less sensitive. Diabetic foot ulcers are a particular problem since the patient does not feel the pain of a blister, callous, or other minor injury. Poor blood circulation in the legs and feet contribute to delayed wound healing. The inability to sense pain along with the complications of delayed wound healing can result in minor injuries, blisters, or callouses becoming infected and difficult to treat. In cases of severe infection, the infected tissue begins to break down and rot away. The most serious consequence of this condition is the need for amputation of toes, feet, or legs due to severe infection.
To treat diabetic retinopathy, a laser is used to destroy and prevent the recurrence of the development of these small aneurysms and brittle blood vessels. Approximately 50% of patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years of diabetes, and 80% retinopathy after 15 years of the disease. Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure further aggravates eye disease in diabetes.
It's not as clear what the rest of the type 1 genes are up to, but researchers are eager to find out. "Even though something accounts for a small part [of the genetic risk], it could have a significant impact," says Stephen Rich, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Understanding these genes' role may clue researchers in to less obvious biological pathways involved in type 1 diabetes, and to possible prevention strategies.
Diet management is very important in people with both types of diabetes mellitus. Doctors recommend a healthy, balanced diet and efforts to maintain a healthy weight. People with diabetes can benefit from meeting with a dietitian or a diabetes educator to develop an optimal eating plan. Such a plan includes avoiding simple sugars and processed foods, increasing dietary fiber, limiting portions of carbohydrate-rich, and fatty foods (especially saturated fats). People who are taking insulin should avoid long periods between meals to prevent hypoglycemia. Although protein and fat in the diet contribute to the number of calories a person eats, only the number of carbohydrates has a direct effect on blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association has many helpful tips on diet, including recipes. Even when people follow a proper diet, cholesterol-lowering drugs are needed to decrease the risk of heart disease (see recommendations).
Type 2 diabetes is mainly caused by insulin resistance. This means no matter how much or how little insulin is made, the body can't use it as well as it should. As a result, glucose can't be moved from the blood into cells. Over time, the excess sugar in the blood gradually poisons the pancreas causing it to make less insulin and making it even more difficult to keep blood glucose under control.
Awareness about the signs and symptoms and periodic screening especially in the presence of risk factors and warning signs of diabetes, would go a long way in preventing new cases of diabetes by providing an opportunity to intervene at the stage of prediabetes. It is evident that diabetes can be prevented among prediabetic individuals by improvements in physical activity and diet habits. Such strategies will also prevent development of diabetic complications to a great extent. Patient empowerment is vital in diabetes management. This can be done through patient education and sharing information on management and preventive aspects of diabetes.
gestational diabetes diabetes mellitus with onset or first recognition during pregnancy, usually during the second or third trimester. In some cases mild, undetected glucose intolerance was present before pregnancy. It often disappears after the end of the pregnancy, but many women with this condition develop permanent diabetes mellitus in later life. Although the disordered carbohydrate metabolism is usually mild, prompt detection and treatment are necessary to avoid fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.
Patient Education. Successful management of diabetes requires that the patient actively participate in and be committed to the regimen of care. The problem of poor control can cause serious or even deadly short-term and long-term complications, with devastating effects on the patient's longevity and sense of well being. There are many teaching aids available to help persons with diabetes understand their disease and comply with prescribed therapy. In general, a patient education program should include the following components:
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is predominantly a disease of the young, usually developing before 20 years of age. Overall, type I DM makes up approximately 15% of all cases of diabetes. It develops in approximately 1 in 600 children and is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. The incidence is relatively low for children under the age of 5, increases between 5 and 15, and then tapers off.
Weight loss surgery in those with obesity and type two diabetes is often an effective measure. Many are able to maintain normal blood sugar levels with little or no medications following surgery and long-term mortality is decreased. There is, however, a short-term mortality risk of less than 1% from the surgery. The body mass index cutoffs for when surgery is appropriate are not yet clear. It is recommended that this option be considered in those who are unable to get both their weight and blood sugar under control.
Diabetes mellitus results mainly from a deficiency or diminished effectiveness of insulin that is normally produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It is characterised by high blood sugar, altered sugar and glucose metabolism and this affects blood vessels and causes several organ damage. Causes of diabetes can be classified according to the types of diabetes.
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.
Often people don't experience symptoms of diabetes until their blood sugars are very high. Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, extreme fatigues, numbness and tingling in the extremities (hands and feet), cuts and wounds that are slow to heal, and blurred vision. Some people also experience other less common symptoms including weight loss, dry itchy skin, increased yeast infections, erectile dysfunction, and acanthosis nigricans (thick, "velvety" patches found in the folds or creases of skin, such as the neck, that is indicative of insulin resistance).
Having diabetes requires life-long treatment and follow-up by health professionals. Diabetes can be linked to damage of the eyes, kidneys and feet. It is also associated with increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and poor blood circulation to the legs. Medical care aims to minimise these risks by controlling diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and screening for possible complications caused by the diabetes.
One of the key factors in Joslin’s treatment of diabetes is tight blood glucose control, so be certain that your treatment helps get your blood glucose readings as close to normal as safely possible. Patients should discuss with their doctors what their target blood glucose range is. It is also important to determine what your goal is for A1C readings (a test that determines how well your diabetes is controlled over the past 2-3 months). By maintaining blood glucose in the desired range, you’ll likely avoid many of the complications some people with diabetes face.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that blood sugars be 80mg/dL-130mg/dL before meals and less than or equal to 180mg/dL two hours after meals. Blood sugar targets are individualized based on a variety of factors such as age, length of diagnosis, if you have other health issues, etc. For example, if you are an elderly person, your targets maybe a bit higher than someone else. Ask your physician what targets are right for you.
Diabetes insipidus is characterized by excessive urination and thirst, as well as a general feeling of weakness. While these can also be symptoms of diabetes mellitus, if you have diabetes insipidus your blood sugar levels will be normal and no sugar present in your urine. Diabetes insipidus is a problem of fluid balance caused by a problem with the kidneys, where they can't stop the excretion of water. Polyuria (excessive urine) and polydipsia (excessive thirst) occur in diabetes mellitus as a reaction to high blood sugar.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Insulin treatment can cause weight gain and low blood sugar. In addition, there may be discomfort at the injection site. There are several types of tablets used to treat diabetes and they have different side-effects. The most common are diarrhoea (metformin), nausea (GLP-1 agoniists), weight-gain (sulphonylureas and pioglitazone), low blood sugar (sulphonylureas) and genital thrush (SGLT2 inhibitors). However, not all patients will experience some or any of these side-effects and patients should discuss any concerns with their doctor.
A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as healthy eating for anyone – low in saturated fat, moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruit. Foods that say they are healthier for people with diabetes generally offer no special benefit. Most of them still raise blood glucose levels, are more expensive, and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols.
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.