Today, I treated someone who has type 1 diabetes mellitus. While it’s common for me to see people with diabetes multiple times a day, this consult was unique. Most diabetics I see weigh well over 200 pounds, but this gentleman weighed barely 130 pounds. Being diagnosed at age 14, he knew a great deal about diabetes.
Now in his mid-twenties, he takes insulin shots several times a day and knows how to check his blood sugar. He knows all the right foods to eat, but still his diabetes was poorly controlled because he is what is called a “brittle” diabetic. Brittle diabetics suffer from dramatic blood sugar spikes and drops, often without warning.
But did you know that less than 10% of all diabetics are type 1?
My patient today was in the minority of the diabetics I treat. Almost everyone I treat has type 2 diabetes, which is in many ways a completely different disease. Type 2 diabetes is determined more by lifestyle and eating habits than by insulin-producing cells.
FACT: Our bodies live off of sugar.
Everything we eat is chewed up and swallowed into our stomachs. Our intestines then turn all food, no matter where it came from, into sugar. That sugar goes into our bloodstream and travels to the cells of our organs. This is where the problem arises. The sugar needs to get into the cells but cannot do it on its own. It needs help, and that’s where insulin comes in. Insulin is produced by our bodies and floats around in our blood until it comes upon the sugar. It then grabs hold of the insulin and connects it to insulin receptors that are attached to the walls of the cells, sort of like a key to a door. Once connected, the sugar enters the cells and the sugar is converted to energy.
With type 1 diabetes, there is a problem with the insulin. With type 2 diabetes, problems arise because of a patient’s lifestyle.
The pills that are used to remedy type 2 diabetes work to make the body’s insulin more effective. These pills don’t work with type 1 patients because the person’s insulin is totally broken.
With type 2 diabetes, there is also the issue of the receptor being “sick”. Interestingly enough, it is often possible to improve the health of the receptors by doing those things that we should all be doing anyway, things like exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables. This is why we strongly encourage all type 2 diabetics to join our Wellness center and work with our dietician on ways to eat better and exercise more. As a Certified Medical Fitness Facility, Church Health Center Wellness is equipped to serve the needs of those struggling with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
I truly hope that the high tech “cure” for diabetes happens in the near future, but if it does it will only be for the small number of people who have type 1 diabetes.
For the lion’s share of people with diabetes and all the terrible consequences it can lead to, the best treatment is prevention.