What is DIABETES?
Updated: Sep 14
As per World Health Organisation, around 422 million people across the globe are affected by Diabetes. Each year, the lethal disease kills about 1.6 million people. Blood sugar problems are rising at alarming levels. Many people are not even aware that they have Diabetes. What is Diabetes, and how does it affect us? What is the relationship between insulin and body fat? How do hormones like insulin and glucagon manage our blood sugar? Let's use the power of science to find answers to these questions.
What are HORMONES?
Hormones are specific chemicals that act as signalling agents or catalysts in our bodies. For example, insulin is a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels. A triangular-shaped endocrine gland behind the stomach called the pancreas makes insulin.
Our body has to maintain a certain level of glucose in the blood. Insulin helps cell receptors accept glucose, thus maintaining a specific range of blood glucose.
INSULIN and BODY FAT Relationship:
Fast-digesting carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed in the blood. As a result, they increase glucose in the blood. An increase in blood sugar levels forces the pancreas gland to release insulin to regulate blood glucose levels.
Glucose is first stored as glycogen (to be used later for energy) in the liver stores. However, the liver has limited stores and a specific rate of absorption. Next, excess glucose is stored in the muscle (again, as glycogen). Just like liver stores, muscle stores are also limited and have a specific rate of absorption. After filling both the stores, if there is excess glucose, it is stored as body fat to be used later for energy.
The Role of Hormone - GLUCAGON:
Like insulin, Glucagon is also a hormone. The alpha cells of the pancreas produce it. Once the blood glucose levels start decreasing, sensing a need to maintain blood glucose, the pancreas releases glucagon. It signals the muscle and liver cells to convert the stored glycogen back into glucose. The process of releasing insulin and glucagon happens throughout our lives to maintain blood glucose levels.
Fasting blood glucose levels for a sedentary individual should ideally be between 70 to 99 mg/ dl. Blood glucose levels for a sedentary individual, two hours after a meal should ideally be less than 140 mg/ dl.
What is DIABETES?
Diabetes Mellitus is a condition that occurs in the body due to problems with blood glucose balance. It means there's a problem with the production or usage of insulin and glucagon. There are two types of Diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes: In Type 1 Diabetes, our pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or doesn't produce insulin at all. The immune system destroys insulin-producing cells. Hence, patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes must rely on external sources of insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes: In Type 2 Diabetes, our cells become resistant to insulin. It means cells do not respond to insulin the way they should. In normal circumstances, insulin acts as a gatekeeper, signalling cell receptors to open gates and accept glucose from the blood, storing it in the form of glycogen. However, in type 2 diabetes, since cells are resistant to insulin, the gates do not open, resulting in a sharp rise in blood glucose levels.
The most common cause of type 2 diabetes is an incorrect lifestyle.
Diet alone is responsible for close to 90% of cases of Type 2 Diabetes.
There is a direct correlation between Type 2 Diabetes and the amount of fat you carry on your body. Therefore, the fatter you are, the higher are your chances of being diabetic.
What are INSULIN SPIKES?
When you eat simple carbohydrates, the blood rapidly absorbs glucose. Beta cells of the pancreas immediately start releasing insulin to control blood sugar. Insulin signals cell receptors to open the gate and accept glucose. Gates open, glucose is taken, blood glucose level drops, and subsequently, insulin level drops. If you put it down on a graph, with time on the x-axis and the amount of insulin on the y-axis, it will look something like this:
The Relation between HIGH GLYCEMIC FOOD/ INSULIN SPIKES and TYPE 2 DIABETES:
Over a period, if there are consistent insulin spikes, the cells start showing signs of insulin resistivity; we become pre-diabetic. Most pre-diabetics will become diabetic unless they change their lifestyle.
Is our LIFESTYLE to be Blamed?
Body adaptation cannot keep up with the lifestyle changes introduced. The quantum of carbohydrates, especially simple carbs in our diet, is rapidly increasing. There's a sharp rise in the amount of sugar we eat, and then there is alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs etc., all around us.
We still are hunters and gatherers, but the entire world's economy depends on an utterly humanmade process called agriculture. Agriculture relies heavily on genetically modified crops, pesticides, growth hormones etc., which end up in the food chain. Then, there are food additives in the form of taste enhancers, preservatives, stabilisers, anti-caking agents, emulsifiers etc., that are added to enhance the product. Carbohydrates have the highest propensity for insulin spikes. As a consequence, our reliance on insulin has sharply increased.
Consuming CARBOHYDRATES for Thousands of Years?
A common argument posed by people is that we have been consuming carbohydrates for years and still survived. Yes, we stayed, but our quality of life and health has deteriorated with time. People either look fat or fragile. Agriculture was introduced barely 10,000 years ago. Before agriculture, we used to hunt and gather food for the last 2.5 million years. Can you even compare 2.5 million years to 10,000 years? Ten thousand years is a negligible period compared to 2.5 million years. Lifestyle-related diseases were not even existent back then.
The Socially Acceptable DIABETES:
Would we mind taking Diabetes a little more seriously? It is a shocker, but many people with Diabetes are not concerned about their condition, and some are even proud of not making efforts to manage it. Please do not treat it as an achievement of some sort. Type 2 diabetes is a socially acceptable, lethal lifestyle-related disease that has all the potential to kill us.
Hormones are specific chemicals that act as signalling agents or catalysts in our bodies.
The process of releasing insulin and glucagon happens continuously to maintain blood glucose levels throughout our lives.
There are two types of Diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.
In Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or doesn't produce insulin at all.
In Type 2 Diabetes, the cells become resistant to insulin, and the gates do not open, resulting in a sharp rise in blood glucose levels.
Type 2 Diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease, and Type 1 is inborn.
Consistent Insulin Spikes sharply increase our probability of getting Type 2 Diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes is a lethal lifestyle-related disease that has all the potential to kill us.
We hope the article helped in understanding What is Diabetes.