Diabetes: The Basics

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or sugar, levels are too elevated. The food you ingest everyday yields glucose that is then helped into your cells to energize them, by a hormone called insulin.

In type 1 diabetes, no insulin is produced by your body.

In type 2 diabetes, which is more common, your body produces an inadequate amount of insulin and does not use it well. Without sufficient insulin, the glucose does not get out of your blood, and into your cells, as required.


The presence of diabetes is revealed via a blood test. Adhering to regular eating habits, maintaining control on your weight and doing regular exercise can help keep diabetes under control. There is also a need for monitoring your glucose level and taking prescribed medicines, if any.

Diabetes’ Impact

Over a span, excessive glucose in your blood can cause harm to your nerves, eyes and kidneys. Diabetes can also result in stroke or cardiac problems and could even lead to the amputation of a limb.

Such negative impacts can result owing to microvascular disease, or damage to small vessels, caused by diabetes. Diabetes also accelerates the process whereby the arteries are hardened and narrowed (atherosclerosis), which in turn can lead to coronary heart ailments, strokes, and other macrovascular diseases pertaining to large blood vessels.

Another form of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, has been seen to afflict pregnant women.

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes and hyperglycemia result when the body produces an insufficient insulin relative to the needs of your body, or when the body produces defective insulin (an uncommon phenomenon), or the cells are unable to effect the proper and efficient use of insulin. In the latter case, the cells of muscle and fat tissues are mainly affected, thereby resulting in a condition called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance.

Type 1 diabetes on the other hand is characterized by the absolute absence of insulin, usually caused by a process that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, beta cells decline steadily, thereby aggravating the problem of high blood sugar levels. The body is capable, in certain cases, to overcome insulin resistance; it accomplishes this by increasing insulin production. Over a span, if insulin production declines, thereby resulting in a less vigorous release of insulin, it can lead to hyperglycemia.

What’s the Role of Glucose in Diabetes?

Glucose is a form of simple sugar contained in food. It is crucial to the proper functioning of body cells to which it supplies energy. The intestinal cells absorb glucose from digested food into the bloodstream after carbohydrates are broken down in the small intestine. The bloodstream carries the glucose to the various cells in the body which then utilize it. However, insulin is needed to help transport glucose into the cells, as this cannot by the glucose on its own. In the absence of insulin, the cells are deprived of energy giving glucose, despite glucose being abundantly present in the bloodstream. This form of starvation amidst plenty is characteristic of certain forms of diabetes. The unutilized glucose goes out of the body, as waste, in the form of urine.

What’s the Role of Insulin in Diabetes?

Specialized pancreatic cells (beta cells) produce the hormone called insulin. (The location of the pancreas – an organ seated deep within the abdomen – is behind the stomach.) Apart from transporting glucose into the cells, insulin also helps regulate the level of glucose in the blood. When, after you finish eating, the level of glucose in the blood increases, more insulin is ordinarily released by the pancreas into the bloodstream. This can help transport the glucose into the cells and lower the level of glucose in the blood. Corresponding to the lowering of blood glucose levels, the pancreas reduces its release of insulin.

Even during fasting, insulin is released gradually and steadily, to help maintain a steady level of blood sugar level during such fasting. Normal individuals are helped by such regulation of the levels of glucose in the bloodstream, thereby helping to keep the levels within tight control. As explained earlier, in diabetes patients, insulin is either absent or deficiently produced, in relation to the body’s needs, or not properly utilized by the body. Any or all of these factors can result in hyperglycemia (elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream).

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Dr. Stephen Anthony, MD

Dr. Anthony is a qualified medical doctor and has penned many credible articles to educate the public about general health issues. Dr. Anthony has been involved in more than 30 multi-national clinical research trials and has worked with leading medical research companies such as Novartis, Pfizer, Merck etc.

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