Diabetes is common in the United States with over 30 million Americans diagnosed with the condition. Diabetes affects children, youth, adults, and the elderly. Diabetes is a condition in which someone’s blood glucose, or blood sugar, raises too high. This happens when the body does not produce insulin or does not use insulin properly. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Insulin helps distribute glucose into cells and throughout the body to be converted into energy. So when there is a lack of insulin or insulin is not being used properly, glucose does not get distributed, and the blood glucose level raises to a high, sometimes dangerous, amount.
Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and it occurs when a patient has insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means their bodies do not use insulin correctly, and the pancreas tries to compensate by creating more and more insulin. Type 2 diabetes patients can usually manage their condition with changes to diet, medications, and insulin treatments.
Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is much less common than type 2. According to the American Diabetes Association, only 5% of people diagnosed with diabetes have type 1. Sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for dangerous invaders like bacteria or viruses and attacks them. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are over 100 different kinds of autoimmune diseases. A 2014 study published in Clinical Pediatric Endocrinology, stated that in type 1 diabetes the immune system attacks pancreatic cells and destroys them. The attack prevents the pancreatic cells from doing their job of making insulin.
Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes
It’s not uncommon for type 1 diabetes symptoms to appear quickly. Common type 1 diabetes symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Bed-wetting in children who previously didn’t wet the bed
- Extreme hunger
- Weight loss
- Mood changes such as irritability
- Blurred vision
- Yeast infections in women
- Cuts or sores that are slow to heal
Diagnosing Type 1 Diabetes
If a physician suspects type 1 diabetes in a patient, he or she will order blood tests to check markers such as blood glucose levels. Common blood tests used to diagnose type 1 diabetes include:
- Glycated Hemoglobin Test (A1C): This test measures the average blood sugar level over the past couple of months.
- Random Blood Sugar Test: Sometimes a physician will order a blood sugar test to be given at a random time. Regardless of when the patient last ate or drank anything, random high blood sugar levels can indicate diabetes.
- Fasting Blood Sugar Test: A blood sugar test may be given in which the patient has been fasting for several hours. A high fasting blood sugar test result may indicate prediabetes or diabetes.
Treating Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes treatment usually consists of monitoring blood sugar levels, taking insulin, and adjusting diet.
Common Type 1 Diabetes Treatments Include:
- Regular blood sugar monitoring
- Taking insulin
- Tracking intake of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
Patients with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin for the rest of their lives. Insulin cannot be taken orally because the stomach enzymes that break down food for digestion would break the insulin up and prevent it from doing its job. There are different types of insulin that may be used as well as different ways of receiving the insulin.
Types of Insulin:
- Regular insulin
- Fast-acting insulin
- Intermediate-acting insulin
- Long-acting insulin
Ways of Taking Insulin:
- Insulin pump: patients wear a pump that automatically dispenses insulin
- Insulin injections: usually requires multiple injections a day
In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first artificial pancreas device system for the treatment of type 1 diabetes patients. The device works by automatically monitoring blood sugar levels and dispensing appropriate insulin amounts. The artificial pancreas device works differently from an insulin pump. With an insulin pump, patients have to manually enter the amount of carbohydrates they are eating along with their current blood sugar level for the pump to know how much insulin to dispense. The pump will then provide enough insulin to cover the meal and manage blood sugar levels. With the artificial pancreas device system, the patient will no longer have to enter what they are eating at every meal manually.
New research is shedding light on the role amino acids may play in the development of type 1 diabetes. Amino acids are essential for building protein and making chemicals that the body requires for proper functioning.
A 2013 study published in Nutrition and Diabetes suggested that the amino acid carnitine may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. The study revealed that children who developed type 1 diabetes during the first six years of their lives each had low levels of carnitine as infants. This study may be a step forward in finding a way to prevent type 1 diabetes in the future.
Although amino acid supplements such as carnitine may be beneficial, it is always best to take a balanced mixture of all essential amino acids to make sure that the blood concentration of amino acids is optimal.