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  Category: Articles » Health & Fitness » Diabetes » Article

Diabetes Mellitus - An Introduction To This Common Chronic Disease

By Donald Saunders

Diabetes has been known for centuries, although it has not been fully understood, and the disease takes its name from the Greek for "passing through" because of one of its main symptoms - excessive urine production. During the fifteenth century the word Mellitus was from the Latin for "honey" when it was noted that many patients with diabetes had high levels of sugar in their blood and urine.

Diabetes mellitus, which is simply referred to as diabetes these days, is a metabolic disorder which in particular affects the metabolism of carbohydrates. The condition requires medical treatment and, more often than not, a number of lifestyle changes.

To function properly the human body requires a source of energy and derives this from the food that we eat. A normal diet comprises of a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats with carbohydrates accounting for up to three-quarters of this mix. There are a wide variety of high carbohydrate (sometimes referred to as high starch) foods and these include bread, bran, cereal, beans, rice and pasta.

Food is broken down by the digestive process into a variety of organic compounds and one of these, which forms the body's prime source of energy, is glucose. Glucose is then carried to various parts of the body by the blood and is transferred to the cells of the body to fuel both cell growth and cell repair.

An essential element in the transfer process is the presence of insulin in the bloodstream. Insulin is produced by specialized cells (known as beta-cells) which are located in an area of the pancreas called the Islets of Langerhans.

Diabetes sufferers fall into two broad categories those with type 1 diabetes (formerly known as "juvenile" or "childhood" diabetes) and those with type 2 (or adult) diabetes. There is also said to be a third form of diabetes known as type 3 or gestational diabetes but, despite the fact that there are a few differences, this is basically nothing more than type 2 diabetes which occurs during, and because of, pregnancy.

In type 1 diabetes sufferers develop a problem with the insulin producing beta-cells of the pancreas and are unable to produce sufficient insulin to transfer glucose from the bloodstream to the cells of the body. This means that it is necessary to closely monitor levels in the blood and to administer insulin so that glucose can be transferred and the glucose levels in the blood returned to normal.

In type 2 diabetes the body usually continues to produce insulin normally but the body's cells develop a resistant to it and insulin levels begin to increase in the blood. In the early stages of type 2 diabetes this can often be counteracted by reducing the intake of glucose producing carbohydrates, exercising and losing weight, particularly when weight loss is aimed at removing fat from the area of the abdomen. If this approach does not do the trick then the condition can usually be controlled through the use of medication.

There is currently no cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes and, while treatment can usually reduce the symptoms of both considerably, most sufferers will require ongoing treatment throughout life.

About the Author
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