Five facts you might not know about diabetes

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Diabetes has been around for thousands of years

All the way back to ancient Egypt. It’s thought that the first mention of what we now know as diabetes was first scribed in an Egyptian manuscript from 1550BC.

Whereas these days diabetes is tested through blood, three thousand years ago it was done through urine. Using, shall we say, a rather primitive form of dipstick. Ants were used to test for ‘honey urine’; attraction meant a positive test.

Thank goodness for modern science.

Diabetes isn’t caused by eating too much sugar

Although diabetes relates to blood sugar levels, contrary to popular belief it isn’t caused by the amount of sugar we eat. In simple terms, there are two main forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

The first is actually an autoimmune disease, which arises when the immune system starts attacking insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 can have several causes ranging from genetics to a natural rise in blood sugar as we get older. Lifestyle choices, including obesity, can play a factor but at least one on five people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes is a healthy weight.

That said, a healthy balanced diet and exercise lowers risk for many diseases.

Diabetics can eat sugar

Sugar is found naturally in many things we eat. It’s in fruit and vegetables as fructose and in dairy products as lactose – all fine for a diabetic in moderate amounts as part a well- balanced diet.

Diabetics do have to watch the glycaemic index of foods, though. That’s basically a rating of how quickly that food will affect blood sugar levels.

Now, whilst we’d expect different fruits to have different glycaemic values (a peach tastes a lot sweeter than a grapefruit) that’s not the whole story. Did you know that dried fruit contains more sugar than its fresh or frozen counterpart? The rough rule of thumb is that half a cup of dried fruit has the same sugar value as a cup of fruit in any other form.

There are more than two forms of diabetes

When we think of diabetes we generally think of Type 1 and Type 2, but new research from Scandinavia[1] suggests there could be as many as five; broken down into clusters:

  • Cluster 1: Severe Autoimmune Diabetes
  • Cluster 2: Severe Insulin-Deficient Diabetes
  • Cluster 3: Severe Insulin-Resistant Diabetes
  • Cluster 4: Mild Obesity-Related Diabetes
  • Cluster 5: Mild Age-Related Diabetes

Although these are new findings, the idea that there are more than two types is not new. Depending on where you look you can see evidence suggesting Type 3, 4 and even 5 – with Type 3 being linked to Alzheimer’s disease due to insulin dysfunction in the brain.

Whilst it may seem confusing to divide the condition into so many different types or clusters, a better understanding of how the disease works and different variations could lead to positive breakthroughs in how it is treated.

Your blood sugar levels can change with the seasons

It seems that it’s not just what we eat that can affect our blood sugar but when we eat it. Scientists measuring HbA1c (or glycated haemoglobin) levels noticed higher glucose levels in patients in the summer compared to winter. It’s believed that warmer weather may increase dilation of blood vessels which in turn results in a faster delivery of glucose and insulin to tissues.

It just goes to show that whilst diabetes may have been active for thousands of years, we’re still learning. Thanks to initiatives like World Diabetes Awareness Day raising awareness and vital funding, we may be that little closer to finding the answers we need.

If you, or someone you care for, has been recently diagnosed there are organisations throughout the UK you can contact for further information and support including:

NHS

Diabetes UK

Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation

Diabetes.co.uk

Diabetes.org


[1] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(18)30051-2/fulltext?elsca1=tl

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