Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Type 1 Diabetes for dummies
Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes is not caused by diet or lifestyle. It cannot be prevented. It's an auto-immune disease that occurs when the body's immune system malfunctions and mistakenly destroys the cells that produce insulin.
Juvenile or Type 1 Diabetes usually strikes children and is different from Type 2 in that it can never be controlled by diet and lifestyle alone. Since the insulin producing cells are dead, all Type 1s NEED to inject insulin to stay alive. Insulin cannot be taken orally, it must be injected multiple times per day or continuously via a catheter inserted into the skin attached to an insulin pump. Without injected insulin, the Type 1 diabetic would eventually slip into a coma and die. This was always the outcome before the discovery of insulin.
Injecting synthetic insulin to replace the insulin no longer produced by the pancreas is the easy part of the Type 1 diabetic treatment. Along with the destruction of the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, Type 1 diabetics also lose the very complex ability to maintain normal blood sugar concentration. Every minute of every day, the non-diabetic body is automatically making tiny adjustments using various hormones...etc... to ensure that blood glucose (sugar) values are in check. This is no longer the case in a Type 1 diabetic who has to try to manually maintain these blood glucose values as close to normal as possible. Insulin and food are only part of the blood glucose balance equation. Everything from nervousnous, stress, fatigue, physical activity, viruses...etc... affect blood sugar. This makes the task of normalizing Type 1 blood sugars very difficult if not impossible. Even if you do everything right there will be times when your blood sugar is either too high or too low... And then there are the very scary low lows like this one.
So now, without a healthy pancreas to normalize blood sugar levels, the Type 1 diabetic is at risk whenever these levels are out of range. Even with "good control", blood glucose values are out of the normal range often (daily or even many times during each day). Too low could lead to a seizure or even death. Too high will lead to long term complications such as retinopathy, amputation, kidney failure...
Insulin is by no means a cure. It keeps the Type 1 diabetic alive and has made the disease no longer terminal, but it still is only one piece of the puzzle required to normalize blood glucose.