Diabetes Mellitus – The Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2

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Diabetes Mellitus – The Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2

How often have you had a decadent dessert at a restaurant, and jokingly referred to it as “diabetes on a plate?” The thing is, diabetes – or Diabetes Mellitus, to give it its full medical name – isn’t something we should be joking about. It is actually second only to tuberculosis when it comes to disease-related deaths in South Africa, killing more people than cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. That’s a sobering statistic, and one that makes diabetes an illness we should definitely take more seriously.

What Is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that enables your body to use the glucose from the food you eat for energy now, or to store it for future use. When you have diabetes, depending on what type you have, your body either doesn’t produce insulin at all (Type 1), or it doesn’t respond to it properly (Type 2).

To understand diabetes more thoroughly, it helps to understand how our bodies use fuel for energy. We refer to this as our metabolism. When we eat or drink, our bodies break down much of this “fuel” into glucose, which is essentially just a simple sugar. Our blood and blood vessels then transport this sugar – either to our muscles, brain and organs or to our fat cells to be stored for later. Insulin is the “key” that unlocks our cell doors, allowing the sugar to get in.

When sugar leaves our bloodstream and enters our cells, our blood sugar levels drop. If the sugar can’t enter the cells i.e. if there isn’t enough insulin to unlock the doors, it accumulates, and our blood sugar levels rise. Too much sugar in the blood is referred to as hyperglycemia or diabetes.

Types Of Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 – but both are chronic diseases that affect the way our bodies regulate blood sugar or glucose. People with Type 1 diabetes produce very little, or no insulin at all. This means glucose is unable to enter their cells. People with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies don’t respond to it properly.

Let’s look at both these types in more detail:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes accounts for just ten percent of all diagnosed diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease caused by the body attacking its own pancreas with antibodies. When it functions as it should, our immune system works hard to fight off foreign invaders, such as unwanted viruses and bacteria. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes healthy, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas for foreign, unwanted ones, attacking and destroying them. Once they’re destroyed, the body can no longer produce insulin.

As with most autoimmune diseases, we aren’t completely sure why this happens. It could have something to do with certain genetic factors, or it could be brought on by environmental influences, such as exposure to viruses and toxins.

There is currently no cure for most Type 1 diabetes, and sufferers must take insulin every day if they cannot produce any insulin – sometimes several times a day. Some inject it into soft tissue, such as the buttocks, arms or stomach, while others use insulin pumps, which trickle feed a steady flow of insulin through a small tube.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called Juvenile diabetes, because it develops most commonly in children, including babies, and adolescents. It is the most common form of diabetes in people under 30 years old. However, it’s also possible to develop it later in life too. Symptoms are very similar to Type 2, although they typically develop much faster – often over the course of just a few weeks.

Look out for:

  • Constant thirst and frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cuts or sores that take ages to heal, or that never seem to heal properly
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Frequent bladder infections

Type 2 Diabetes

Ninety percent of diabetes sufferers have type 2 diabetes. Their pancreas still makes insulin, but their bodies are unable to use it effectively. The pancreas then tries to compensate for this by producing even more insulin but, because all the glucose cannot be transported into the cells, glucose continues to accumulate in the bloodstream.

Many symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are similar to those mentioned above for Type 1. However, unlike Type 1 sufferers, Type 2 diabetics may not have symptoms for many years, as they develop very slowly over a long period of time. Some people may not have any symptoms at all, and only realise they have diabetes when complications occur.

In many ways, Type 2 diabetes is more dangerous than Type 1, even though it’s not life-threatening. However, it is difficult to detect, and when blood glucose levels remain high over long periods of time, it can cause significant and serious damage to sensitive organs. Heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, limb amputation, nerve damage (neuropathy) and impotence are some of the side effects of untreated Type 2 diabetes.

At AltMedCare, our medical and healthcare practitioners have years of experience diagnosing, preventing and treating major chronic diseases, including diabetes, with our Integrative Medicine Model. Why not chat to us about how we can help you holistically manage your illness.

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