Nine curious facts about diabetes

It would seem that patients today know everything about diabetes, one of the most common diseases of modern time. This is true thanks to the efforts of the media. Endocrinologist Leonid Zaitsev collected the most obscure and interesting facts about the disease.

The first attempts to treat diabetes were made before our era. Ancient Greek and Roman physicians treated it with massage, exercise, baths, aromatherapy and other means. In the 19th century a special meat diet low in carbohydrates was developed for diabetics. In a few decades, there were still plenty of diets, and therapy with the use of opium and bloodletting became popular. The most effective treatment for type 2 diabetes was a low calorie diet.  Patients with type 1 diabetes had a much sadder fate, and prior to the invention of insulin therapy patients with this disease died shortly after the onset of the first symptoms.

The first attempt to treat diabetes with insulin injections was made ​​in 1922. It was not entirely successful, and the patient immediately developed adverse reactions. The drug had to be quickly reworked, and only three weeks later scientists have managed to create a drug that effectively and without side effects reduced blood glucose from 28.9 to 6.7 mmol/l. After the start of insulin therapy the patient lived another 13 years and died of pneumonia that developed as a complication of diabetes.

Some believe that when a person starts injecting insulin, they will not be able to give it up, so it is better not to use it or at least delay the first injection for a "rainy day." In fact, this behavior is fraught with complications. Diabetes always means a shortage of insulin, and medicine does not know any other way to make up for the absolute lack of insulin other than injections.  

However, patients with type 2 diabetes can postpone insulin therapy for a long time or even permanently through a diet and taking glucose-lowering medications.

In the 1940s the first longer-acting insulin was introduced that worked twice as long as the normal 6-8 hours. Now the duration is increased to 26 hours.

This situation may change in the near future. A group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a new method of delivering insulin to type 1 diabetics - injectable gel with nanoparticles. According to the scientists, it may eventually become the primary method of treating diabetes and not only allow patients to live without frequent injections, but even without much monitoring. The nanoparticles contained in the gel react to the concentration of glucose in the body, and automatically generate the required amount of insulin. So far, however, the gel has not yet reached the stage of clinical trials.

Recently a pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk announced that by 2020 insulin will be sold in a pill form.  

Typically, the cause of type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune aggression, the destruction of the immune system cells that produce insulin. The process can be provoked, for example, by a cold, or any physiological or psycho-emotional stress, but only given a genetic predisposition that modern medicine is unable to affect. Recently a project for developing a vaccine for type 1 diabetes was launched in the UK. It is unlikely to fully protect from the disease, but could extend life in the period preceding the disease and slow the progression of the disease.

Generally, it is possible to protect oneself against type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing the disease is directly linked to the number of extra pounds. Abandoning sweets is not a way to treat diabetes, precisely like wearing a helmet cannot eliminate the existing concussion.

Although diabetes is a serious and often debilitating disease, modern medications and blood glucose meters allow patients to live active lifestyle. How active? It depends on the person. Diabetes did not prevent the famous Brazilian soccer player Pele from winning world championships. An award-winning American tennis player Bill Talbert has lived with the disease for 70 years, and a famous Canadian hockey player Bobby Clark played as an amateur for 19 years, and another 15 as a professional.      

Of course, there are many of those who want to earn on such a common disease as diabetes. Various methods include hundreds of herbal treatment options, bio-resonance therapy, receiving all kinds of chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, ozone treatment of blood, use of silicon, vanadium and other elements. There are even those who try treating diabetes by wearing strings of pearls, as supposedly it reduces the level of blood sugar.

All the "folk remedies" can be divided into two groups, harmful and harmless. Making conclusions based on effectiveness is difficult because no clinical studies of these methods have been conducted, and stories of "happily healed" are always plentiful. At the same time, there are stories of those who ruined their health by taking unknown drugs. For example, homeopathy is unlikely to harm a patient, while herbal medicine can be dangerous. For instance, Galega officinalis used as a glucose-lowering agent is toxic.   

Some believe that alcohol is good for patients with diabetes because it lowers blood sugar. However, this is not the case, and, "treatment" with large doses of alcohol can be very dangerous. In fact, alcohol does not lower the level of sugar but only inhibits glucose uptake into the blood from the liver. This does not mean that people with diabetes should not drink. With a well-controlled diabetes and properly chosen therapy patients may consume a moderate amount of alcohol, preferably with food, in order to avoid hypoglycemia. Insulin dose should be reduced after drinking.

Some think that smoking diabetics should not give up smoking because they may gain weight and worsen the control of the disease, and that healthy people who quit smoking may develop diabetes. It was recently discovered that type 2 diabetes may be related to smoking cessation and subsequent weight gain (eight to ten pounds). However, the researchers point out that the risks of cardiovascular diseases associated with smoking is much more serious than the threat of weight gain.

Family history plays an important role in the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Different types of diabetes depend on hereditary factors in various ways. Children born to mothers suffering from type 1 diabetes have 1% chance of developing the disease if during pregnancy the woman was over 25 years old, and 4% if she was younger. Children whose fathers suffer from type 1 diabetes have a 10 % probability of developing the disease.

The risk of children developing type 2 diabetes if their parents suffer from the disease is much higher. However, parents pass on not the disease itself but the factors leading to its development. This means that a balanced diet, weight control and regular exercise will be the most effective preventive measures.

Vadim Kirillov

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov