Have you ever wondered how your body actually obtains energy from the food you eat? Actually, every cell in the body requires energy to perform its functions. One of the primary fuels the body uses to supply energy to cells is a molecule called glucose, a sugar extracted from food sources during digestion. Without glucose, the cell runs out of energy and dies.
Starving in a Sea of Glucose
After eating, the level of glucose in the blood rises. The help of a special molecule called insulin is required to transfer the sugar from the blood into the cells for the production of energy. Insulin is the key that opens the door to let glucose into the cells.
Human insulin is produced in a large gland behind the stomach called the pancreas. In the pancreas are some special cells called the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans. These are the cells that produce human insulin.
In a non-diabetic person, the beta cells secrete insulin when blood sugar rises, and when the blood sugar level drops the production of insulin stops.
In a Type 1 diabetic, the beta cells produce little or no human insulin. When this happens the blood sugar level begins to rise to a dangerous level. Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the cells are starving in a sea of glucose.
Why a Diabetic Responds This Way
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease—the immune system attacks a healthy part of the body. Researchers believe that a person who develops this disease may have been exposed at some time by an “environmental trigger” such as a virus or food protein. In Type 1 diabetes, beta cells are attacked and insulin is not produced. When this happens the blood glucose level begins to build up and has no way to enter the cell.
This excess of blood glucose is the direct cause of the classic diabetes symptoms. The kidneys respond by trying to eliminate the excess glucose, eliminating water along with the sugar. This results in frequent and excessive urination and in turn causes intense thirst. Since the cells are not receiving fuel, they trigger the hunger sensation. Because the cells are unable to use the glucose, they pull fuel from other sources—fat stores and muscle—and the diabetic person begins to lose weight.
Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes
Other diabetic diseases are based on the cells’ inability to recognize the helper molecule insulin. Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes are syndromes that can be strongly triggered by a person’s weight, level of exercise and lifestyle.
A person with Type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes produces too much insulin and can’t use it effectively.
The pancreas of those with Type 2 diabetes eventually decreases insulin production and the person will have the same symptoms and risks as those with Type 1 diabetes. Without proper, early diagnosis, intervention, and compliance with physician’s instructions, Type 2 diabetics can develop serious complications.
While gestational diabetes ends after the woman gives birth, she is at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.