Diabetes is a disease that occurs in the presence of sustained levels of high blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus has two main causes. Either the pancreas is not producing sufficient insulin (type 1), or the cells are not responding to the insulin in the blood stream (type 2). In both cases, sugar accumulates in the blood stream at high levels which can be dangerous, if left untreated.
In healthy individuals, beta cells of the pancreas are responsible for insulin production. When insulin is secreted into the blood stream at normal levels, it is able to promote the uptake of glucose by the body’s cells, thereby allowing cells to convert sugars to energy, while at the same time lowering blood sugar concentration to normal homeostatic levels. In individuals with diabetes, these normal functions are disrupted.
The loss of beta cells in the pancreas often leads to type 1 diabetes due to lack of insulin production. Type 2 diabetes starts with insulin resistance, where cells fail to react to insulin properly.
Type 1 diabetes most commonly occurs in children. Unfortunately, prevention options for type I diabetes are limited because there is a significant genetic component resulting in an autoimmune response which attacks the beta cells of the pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes most commonly occurs in adults. Even though type 2 diabetes also has a genetic component, it is preventable by healthy lifestyle choices including proper diet and nutrition. Development of obesity is often a precursor and warning sign that lifestyle changes are required soon to avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance which is common in type 2 diabetes is a result of malfunctioning insulin receptor. The consequence of an insulin receptor that does not respond to insulin is that glucose uptake is impaired, and therefore blood sugar levels rise.
Medications available to treat most types of diabetes will reduce blood sugar levels by various mechanisms. Diabetic individuals should consult their physician for treatment options.