In either case, diabetes results in the body not producing or not properly utilizing insulin, which regulates the amount and the rate cells absorb blood glucose or blood sugar. Glucose, one of our main sources of energy for blood cells, circulating in our blood stream is formed from digestion of carbohydrates. Furthermore, since glucose is the brain's only food, proper minimum levels have to be maintained for normal brain function.
Throughout every day each person has varying blood sugar levels. After food consumption, our blood sugar often rises between 120-130 milligrams per decaliter (mg/dL) triggering pancreatic beta-cells to release insulin. Then glucose is allowed to enter mainly body fat, liver, and muscle cells. As a result, the blood sugar level falls back to normal and insulin secretion diminishes until the next meal is ingested.
People with diabetes have insulin levels too low resulting in blood sugar levels too high, or hyperglycemia. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include dry skin, frequent urination, thirst, vision changes, weight loss, and reduced resistance to infection. Persistent hyperglycemia results in injury to the nervous system, and blood vessels particularly of the eyes, and kidneys, leading to greater risk for Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular problems, infections, and stroke. The two major types of diabetes are Type 1 insulin dependent (IDDM) and Type 2 non-insulin dependent (NIDDM).
Affecting 5-10 percent of diabetics, physicians consider Type 1 IDDM an autoimmune disease since insulin producing pancreatic beta-cells are destroyed by the body's own immune system. Typically striking before the age of 20, it is also referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes. Scientific research suggests contributing factors include nutrition or viral infection. Theoretically several insulin injections per day are required for sufferers to survive.
Often striking middle-aged and older people, the more common form Type 2 NIDDM affects 90-95 percent of diabetes sufferers. Researchers do not completely understand how Type 2 NIDDM develops but it results from a combination of reduced production of insulin from beta-cells and a decrease in the body's ability to use insulin, referred to as insulin resistance. However, several factors have been identified which increase a person’s risk for developing this syndrome including obesity or excess body weight, and lack of exercise.
Between the US lifestyle of consuming larger portions of high-calorie food complicated by lack of exercise, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has significantly risen especially among the ethnic groups of:
- Asian/Pacific Islander,
- Latino, and
- Native Americans.
Consequently, a large industry has emerged around traditional
diabetic research and treatment including oral diabetic medicine, pumps, surgery, and injectable rapid, intermediate, and long-lasting insulin. Regrettably, diabetic medicine puts people at risk for blood sugar levels too low, resulting in hypoglycemia. Initial signs of hypoglycemia are confusion, dizziness, hunger, palpitations, and sweating. If a person is left untreated, it can rapidly progress into disorientation, seizures, loss of consciousness, and they could lapse into a coma.
The cost of money and the suffering of people with this long-term ailment is staggering. The American Diabetic Association stated in their Economic Costs of Diabetes in the US in 2007, direct medical costs of diabetes care, chronic diabetes-related complications, and general medical costs, plus indirect costs including disability and work loss, now total $174 billion. Even though the American Diabetes Association Website states diabetes is an incurable disease, apparently there are countless numbers of people managing this malady with diet and exercise. The CDC acknowledges this in their 2007 fact sheet. In fact, some individuals are very public figures. For example, last November actress Halle Berry shocked the country by stating she had weaned herself off her insulin and was managing her health with diet and exercise, which she shouldn't be able to do with Type 1 diabetes. This caused an entire flurry of debates within the medical community. In a state of disbelief some stated this wasn't possible, while other physicians stated she had been initially misdiagnosed.
But what if diabetes expense and suffering is not necessary? What if the American obsession with alcohol, caffeine, dairy, fast ood, nicotine, processed food, soda, and sugar are causing more health problems and suffering than we realize? Dr. Gabriel Cousens, the well-known holistic medical physician specializing in alternative healing and raw living food nutritional therapies, produced a very enlightening documentary Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days chronicling six diabetic Americans who went to the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona. Here they embarked on a 30-day health regimen of diet change to vegan, organic, uncooked foods to reverse disease and get off of pharmaceutical medication. Each participant struggled with exercising, learning about food selection and preparation, and practicing yoga and meditation. Some adapted to the new diet and new lifestyle more easily, while others felt deprived and frustrated. To tell the truth, I was amazed a group of diabetics could get such obvious results in as little as 30 days and it left me reviewing my own diet, lifestyle, and willpower.
To say the least, the cliché: you are what you eat may have more meaning than we realize. In summary, perhaps our American lifestyle and diet have more to do with the growing diabetes problem than we are aware of or care to admit. In the final analysis, if a change in diet and lifestyle can free people from suffering with diabetes, maybe other illnesses can be managed this way also.