Diabetes is a group of diseases that affects children and adults alike, and requires intensive treatment. It is caused by the inability for the body to absorb (remove) glucose (sugar) from the blood stream, which is essential to provide energy for the brain, muscles and other tissues (read more about the role of insulin). The constant accumulation of glucose in the blood stream leads to severe illnesses. Fortunately, there are today a variety of treatments that allow people to control the disease and live healthy lives.
Looking for a specific term? Look it up in the glossary.
As food is digested, carbs (a common nutrient found in food) are converted into glucose that is released in the blood stream. Glucose can also come from sources other than carbs. With insulin, an hormone produced by the pancreas (an organ that sits behind the stomach), glucose is absorbed and used by the brain, organs, muscles and tissues as an essential source of energy.
Type 1 Diabetes
For people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin, starting in the first years of life (for that reason, type 1 diabetes is often called juvenile diabetes). After a few years, the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin and eventually loses its ability to produce any insulin at all. The exact causes of this condition are not fully understood. There is no cure for this condition, but there’s an effective treatment: receive multiple insulin injections daily to mimic a healthy pancreas’ insulin release. This treatment requires a ritual that must be repeated several times per day:
- Measure the level of glucose in the blood by drawing a drop of blood from a finger.
- Learn about carbs in food and calculate how much is consumed in every meal.
- Inject insulin based on the glucose in the blood and the amount of carbs consumed. Pumps can be used with most people instead of injections.
Because people require daily administration of insulin, those people are said to be insulin-dependent. People who successfully follow this treatment live normal lives otherwise. People who can’t or don’t administer this treatment correctly suffer from multiple diseases in the long term.
Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes (95% of the people in the US suffering from diabetes) have become insulin-resistant over time: their pancreas releases insulin, but it’s not used for absorbing glucose. This form of diabetes manifests itself with adults. Although it is believed to be tied to some genes, it is commonly associated with overweight/obesity, a diet rich in sugars (simple carbs) and/or lack of physical activity. This form of diabetes is treatable via medication and in some cases can be stopped and reversed via diet and lifestyle changes.
A Strong Commitment
Although both forms of diabetes are treatable, even reversible (for type 2 diabetes), there’s a lot of confusion about what those diseases are about and how to effectively treat them.
Firstly, not everyone’s a doctor nor a nutritionist, and some may struggle to grasp essential concepts about their condition and related treatments. Secondly, our busy lives force many of us to eat highly-processed food, which many consider flat-out unhealthy, and that are believed to be linked to some extents with those diseases. But one thing that is certain is that diabetes is a very serious disease and requires a very serious commitment to control it.
Although only your doctor can provide the right advice regarding the treatment, nutrition plays a fundamental role at controlling the condition. Unfortunately, we are bombarded with all sorts of contradictory information about diets and food from scientists, corporations and governments. Since you or a loved one will have to spend time on this condition, we want to provide clear and unbiased information that will help you take the right decisions to better control the condition. We want to dispel myths that perpetuate misinformation and that can derail the efforts of the most committed people.