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What is diabetes and how does it appear?

According to World Health Organization at least 171 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide. This figure is almost equal to the total population of Brazil, the country, occupying the fifth place in the list of world top countries with the largest amount of population. Experts forecast that this amount will almost double by the year 2030. Only in the United States itself 23.6 million people have diabetes these days, and the economic cost of diabetes in this country is estimated about $171 billion. With about 224 thousand deaths in 2002 because of diabetes in the U.S. only, it becomes obvious that diabetes belongs to the primary health problems, which have already become global.

By the way, diabetes belongs to the oldest health disorders, known to mankind. The history of diabetes counts thousands of years. This disorder has been known to ancient Indians in the 6th century BC. Ancient Chinese even defined sweet urine as the key sign of diabetes. Avicenna, the well-known medieval scientist and doctor, gave detailed description of diabetes in his “The Canon of Medicine” (year 1025 AD). In English diabetes was first recorded in 1425 in the form of “diabete”. In 1675 Thomas Willis, famous English doctor and one of the founders of Royal Society, added the word mellitus (meaning “honey” in Latin), - and since then “diabetes mellitus” is used as the official term for a health disorder, commonly known as diabetes.   

The general description of diabetes says, that it is a disorder, in which the body either does not produce insulin at all (diabetes type 1) or the body does not use insulin properly (the body “ignores” insulin and does not use even the already produced amounts of it). The latter condition is called diabetes type 2, and it is the most common type of diabetes, covering up to 90-95 cases of diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone, which is vitally important for humans, because it helps to transform sugar from food sources into energy for supplying all the organs and tissues of the human body. This hormone is produced in the beta cells of the pancreas. When we eat, a lot of sugar or glucose from the foods goes into our bloodstream, which carries it to every cell of the organism. However, our cells are kind of “locked” for glucose, and insulin works as a “key” to unlock the cells and allow glucose in. On the other hand, when there is too much glucose in the blood, insulin helps to store it in the liver and muscles as the energy source for future use. Thus, under normal conditions, insulin always maintains blood sugar at some steady level.

With diabetes there is no insulin produced in the body, or the body does not use it properly (it is called “insulin resistance”). As the result, all the sugar from food we eat remains in the bloodstream until it is removed from the body through urine. In this situation, body cells do not receive energy for normal functioning, and primary signs of diabetes develop. These are increased urination (it could happen as often as every hour), excessive thirst, and increased appetite. Other symptoms of diabetes, such as blurred vision, unusual weight loss or gain, nausea, frequent infections, fatigue also develop with time.

In spite of the fact that nowadays we know exactly how diabetes develops, we still do not know for sure why it appears. Scientists usually name a combination of factors that contribute to the development of this condition. These are genetic factor, environmental issues, including some infections, and other factors, such as high blood pressure, overweight, unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. Some sources say that even exposure to some food-borne chemical toxins or exposure to cow milk at infant age may trigger diabetes because of some yet undiscovered component of cow milk. However, since diabetes existed even in ancient times, when there was no environmental pollution or ozone depletion, and people lived in harmony with nature, the exact causes of diabetes seem to be still undiscovered.

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The best news about diabetes is that though mankind could not find and eliminate the real cause of diabetes, it made a significant progress in the development of its treatments. By the way, having diabetes does not necessary mean regular insulin injections. Injections of insulin are only considered as a primary treatment option for diabetes type 1, when the body does not produce insulin at all. Diabetes type 2, especially when it is diagnosed at early stage, can be effectively managed with a number of options, such as healthy diet, exercising and weight loss program, and special diabetes oral medications.


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