Diabetes pertains to a metabolic disorder that is associated with the lack or absence of insulin, a protein that transports glucose into the cells of the body. Glucose, also simply known as sugars, is considered as the first source of energy for the daily activities performed by the human body, such as walking and standing. In addition, glucose also serves as the main resource for the energy that is required to fuel cellular processes within the body, including that of growth and repair of cells and tissues. The food items consumed by an individual generally contain glucose and thus the presence of insulin is important for the transport of this macromolecule to the appropriate regions of the body.Insulin is mainly produced by the pancreas, which is a digestive organ that is strategically located next to the small intestines, where digestion commonly occurs. Once the process of digestion has been completed in the intestines, the glucose molecules transported into cells through the help of insulin. In normal individuals, the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas is enough to transport the glucose that is present in the meal consumed. On the other hand, individuals with diabetes show a lack or absence of insulin secreted by the pancreas, thus preventing the transport of the glucose molecules into the cells. Glucose is therefore left outside the cells and these remain circulating in the blood. The continuous accumulation of glucose further extends from the blood to the urine, which in turn are samples employed for the diagnostics of diabetes.
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CAUSES OF DIABETES
Diabetes is generally caused by a number of factors, depending on the type of diabetes that has been positively diagnosed in an individual. Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), pertains to an autoimmune condition that involves the incapacity of the body to combat infections (NIH, 2010a). In this case, the immune system of an individual causes the destruction of the cells of the pancreas, thus decreasing and possibly preventing the production of insulin for glucose transport. The actual mechanism that triggers the destruction of the pancreatic cells by the immune system is still unknown and there are active efforts in the field of biomedical research that are attempting to elucidate this reaction.
Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), pertains to an increase in the level of glucose in the body due to aging, obesity or genetic inheritance of the condition (NIH, 2010b). Type 2 diabetes is therefore more commonly observed among elderly individuals, as their metabolic rate generally slows down as they age. Obese individuals tend to develop diabetes because their food choices are often different from the recommended daily diet, thus increasing the likelihood that sugar-rich foods would be consumed on a regular basis.
Gestational diabetes pertains to the increase in the blood glucose level of a female during pregnancy. This occurrence is usually linked to the gain in the total body weight of a woman during pregnancy, as well as the decrease in the physical activity of the woman as she progresses through the entire gestational period of 36 weeks or 9 months. Unlike types 1 and 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes often disappears once the woman has given birth. The disappearance of the features of diabetes are possibly linked to the loss in the total body weight after birth, as well as the increase in the physical activity of the woman after delivery.
EPIDEMIOLOGY OF DIABETES
Type 1 diabetes generally affects both males and females, yet there are certain characteristics that strongly associated with this metabolic disease. According to the World Health Organization, type 1 diabetes is more common among whites and is considered as a rare disease among non-white populations of Africa and Asia. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is commonly diagnosed in elderly individuals.
Moreover, elderly individuals who are overweight are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because these individuals tend to be less active in physical activities. Certain populations are thus associated with type 2 diabetes, including those of African and Asian ethnicities. In the United States alone, there are 24 million individuals with the age of 20 years old and above that have been diagnosed with diabetes (NIDDK, 2007). On the other hand, there are 12 million elderly individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes in the United States.
TREATMENT OF DIABETES
Type 1 diabetes is generally treated with the administration of insulin on a daily basis. Patient are therefore taught how to inject insulin everyday, in order to maintain a normal level of insulin in their blood. Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with medications that assist in the digestion of glucose from the food items consumed. This medication is given on a daily basis using a tablet or capsule format. In addition to medications, a healthy diet is highly recommended to diabetic patients. This includes food items that are low in sugar content, such as green, leafy vegetables and fiber-rich fruits and grains.
Exercise is also recommended for diabetic patients, as this assists in increasing the metabolic rate of the body. Diabetic patients are also educated on the condition of hypoglycemia, which is the extreme lowering of the blood glucose level of the body, resulting in fainting and a decrease in the arterial blood pressure. A dietician therefore plays an important role in the design of the dietary regimen of diabetic patients. A regular check-up should also be performed every 3 to 6 months, wherein the fasting blood sugar levels are determined, in order to evaluate the progress of the patient with the current dietary regimen.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2007). National Diabetes Statistics, 2007. Downloaded from http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/DM_Statistics.pdf on July 8, 2010.
National Institutes of Health. (2010a). Type 1 diabetes: Thirty years of progress. Downloaded from http://www.nih.gov/about/researchresultsforthepublic/Type1Diabetes.pdf on July 8, 2010.
National Institutes of Health. (2010b). Type 2 diabetes: Thirty years of progress. Downloaded from http://www.nih.gov/about/researchresultsforthepublic/Type2Diabetes.pdf on July 8, 2010.
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