Let’s be real for a minute and break down diabetes, hard and fast. Ditching medical jargons, diabetes or diabetes mellitus (not to be confused with diabetes insipidus which entirely is a different type of illness) is a blood sugar disease. Sugar, the one called glucose, is vital to the health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. Also, it’s the brain’s main source of fuel. In diabetes mellitus, the sugar level in the body is consistently higher than normal. This is due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin to regulate the sugar in the blood or the body not responding well to insulin being produced.
Let’s use an analogy, a parable of sorts. Diabetes is the name given to results of irregularities in a typical waste management system. In the system, people use up (more like break down) products and leave behind recyclables and waste. Then waste management workers are contacted to come around to pick up these or you have too much around and complications begin to arise. Excess sugar has bad effects on your brain, mood, teeth, joints, skin, liver, heart, pancreas, kidneys, body weight, sexual health… hello, your entire life!
In the analogy, the pancreas, just below and behind the stomach in your body, could be seen as the waste management agency, insulin as the workers it sends out to clear excess sugar (recyclables), and the body is the people, consumers of products. Insulin regulates sugar level by converting excess sugar into glycogen and stores it up in the liver for later use when the body is low on sugar, perhaps when you are fasting or just starving.
In type 1 diabetes, the agency doesn’t send out enough workers- or in fact, not at all as the disease progresses- and this gives rise to the build-up of recyclables (sugar) in the body. In the real sense, the immune system- which normally fights harmful bacteria or viruses- attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas for unknown reasons. Sugar level, however, could still be regulated with the introduction of insulin shots (injection) into the body. Hence, this type is also called insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 is thought to be a cross-effect of genetics and environmental factors. It can develop at any age, but usually during childhood or adolescence.
In type 2 diabetes, however, the agency sends out workers to clear waste but the people (the body) do not recognize the workers and send them away or do not attend to them. This is, in other words, insulin resistance. The consequence is still that there is a build up of sugar in the body, leading to diabetes mellitus. This type is also referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes since the availability of insulin doesn’t change the diseased state. It is the most common and accounts for over 90% of the cases of the disease in the world. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes but this doesn’t mean everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight.
We hope that this analogy has helped you understand better exactly what diabetes is, as well as differentiate between the two main types of diabetes. Do you have something else to add that you feel will benefit others? Let us know in the comments!