In your lifetime, you’ve most likely encountered diabetes in some way. Maybe a close family member, relative, friend, or teammate has the disease. You’ve probably seen it in commercials or TV shows and you most likely learned about diabetes and the pancreas in high school biology. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that arises from the inadequate production of insulin or from the body’s rejection of insulin from the pancreas. It is a disease that is growing in America and many say has become an epidemic as the rates of children and young adults with diabetes is increasing every year. In this 5 Part Series, we will take a look at what this disease exactly is, living with the disease, different treatment options, and the future of the disease.
To begin, diabetes (scientifically known as diabetes mellitus) doesn’t just happen to obese people or lazy people or the kids who ate too much Halloween candy growing up.
Diabetes is a disease that can strike anyone regardless of walk of life. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is the more severe of the two and is also called “juvenile” diabetes as it usually is found in children and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas because the body sees the insulin-producing cells as foreign. When the immune system kills insulin, it prevents the body from turning the glucose you eat into energy which in turn leads to the body’s cells starving from lack of glucose. Type 2 diabetes, also called “adult onset” diabetes as it is more common in adults, is the more common type. With type 2, the body produces insulin, just not enough or not consistently. This leads to insulin resistance in the body.
“With both type 1 and type 2 diabetics, it is very important to remain on a balanced diet and exercise routine. This will not only help regulate blood sugars in the short run, but help reduce the risk of complications in the future,” said Cumberland River Clinic physician Sarah McQueen.
Diabetes is continuing to be a problem in America as the rate of children, young adults, and adults with the disease continues to climb. The Center for Disease Control reported that 29 million people in the US have diabetes, roughly 9% of the population. This large number has led to over $240 billion spent on medication, research, and other costs to help treat and find a cure for the disease. It is a complicated disease that requires balance and patience, as we will see next when we discover what it is like to live with diabetes.
Diabetes in itself is a complicated disease, living with it is a daily struggle and battle between you and your body. That is the case for the 21 million people in the US who have diagnosed type 1 or type 2 diabetes. UC student Daniel Enge knows firsthand what it is like to live with the disease.
“I’ve lived with it for so long now I have developed a routine on how to do things and manage it,” said Enge.
On a normal day, Enge will wake up and test his blood sugar in the morning before eating. After he eats he will correct for how much carbohydrates he eats using his insulin pump. The does this throughout the day before eating lunch and dinner too. There are a few things that a diabetic has to keep an eye out for; low and high blood sugars. This requires either extra insulin to be used if it is high or to eat some sugar or drink juice to raise it if it is low.
“I can tell by now if my blood sugar is low or high without even checking. If it is high I get easily agitated and my eyesight gets blurry. In that case I need to give myself some more insulin. If I am low I feel weak and shaky. In that case I eat something such as gummy bears or a small thing of juice,” he said.
Living with diabetes can be tough and frustrating. Some days your body will react better or worse with the insulin. Factors such as stress or anxiety can raise blood sugar levels or cause them to fluctuate. It is something diabetics like Daniel Enge have come to terms with and embraced as they fight this disease every day.
Living with diabetes can be frustrating to manage, but the technology we have today has made living with diabetes much more convenient compared to decades ago when scientists were still learning about the disease. According to EveryDayHealth.com, the only gotten better.
“Diabetes was a very misunderstood disease when I was growing up. I remember a classmate of mine having it and the concept of insulin and proper use of it was not fully understood. She would avoid food all together and always suffered from seizures. It was awful,” said Jennifer McJunkin, who grew up with a diabetic father and classmates.
In the last 20 years alone, science has made multiple breakthroughs regarding the disease which have helped improve the overall quality of life in diabetics as well as led to a decrease in amputations and other complications. The
“For how long my father lived with diabetes, he alone saw a complete change in treatment options and ways to manage his blood levels in a short time. From not knowing how to control it properly to knowing exactly what to and how much insulin to give yourself. It was truly amazing,” she said.
On the left, what the first diabetic insulin pump looked like and on the right, the size of insulin pumps today. Amazing!
Diabetes has come a long way in such a short amount of time but there is still a lot of research and innovative ideas that scientists are working on today. There is an abundance of money, time, and, effort being put into new ways to manage, diagnose, and one day cure diabetes. The spearhead of this operation is Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) who currently have research projects in 17 different countries totaling over $530 million and spent $112 million alone on strictly type 1 diabetes research in 2012. They are a global organization that looks to progressively remove the impact of Type 1 Diabetes from people’s lives until we live in a world without Type 1 Diabetes.
Some of the current focuses on this disease is understanding why the body attacks the insulin cells. There is a multitude of research being done to find ways to block this from occurring as well as finding ways to regenerate the cells attacked by the body through stem cell research. Other research efforts are being focused on the prevention of long term complications from the disease such as kidney and vision problems. These new drugs help to block enzymes that contains glucose that travels to the kidneys, eyes, and heart and damages blood vessels.
The next major breakthrough being pursued comes in the form of artificial pancreases. This advanced technology is a lot like pumps that are widely used and available today, but these are more efficient and effective in the short and long term. Research by the New England Journal of Medicine showed promising results in their trials.
Finally, breakthroughs are being made in the awareness of the disease as well as in discovering areas that are in need of insulin. In underdeveloped countries and poor cities, it can and often times is a death sentence to be a diabetic in those areas simply because insulin isn’t provided. With the help of awareness and technology different organizations can work to help make sure all diabetics can have a fighting chance with this disease.
Diabetes is not going away anytime soon. There is still a lot that needs to be researched and understood before a potential cure can even be thought of. The good news is that we are on the way. With the research underway and the amount of funding going towards the disease, it is only a matter of time before a major breakthrough occurs. Unfortunately, our society outside of those concerned with diabetes isn’t helping. Many say America is currently in an obesity epidemic with over 35% (79 million) Americans considered obese today and that number is growing. The troubling statistic is seen in the rate at which young children are getting increasingly bigger and this is a result of our culture.
“I have seen the effects of obesity on people. Kentucky isn’t exactly the most in-shape state in the country. Obesity increases the risk of so many other diseases down the road, especially heart disease and diabetes. It’s hard to see it changing anytime soon,” said Cumberland Clinic Physician Natalie King.
Our government and food industry had made it hard to not become obese. Laws and regulations are put in place to benefit the food industries. Their main concern is money, not the health of people. New discoveries have shown that sugar can be biologically addictive. Everything around us promotes the consumption of unhealthy food. From school lunches to vending machines. From super-sized meals at McDonalds to extra-large slushees at convenient stores. All of this creates a standard that hooks kids when they are young. On top of this, it is cheaper for a mother to buy five items from the dollar menu then to buy salads or fruit from the same place. This type of backward thinking has led to this obesity and diabetic epidemic that won’t change unless we do.