Understanding Diabetes

What is Diabetes? 

Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) condition where the body cannot properly use and store the fuel (sugar) taken from the foods we eat. Insulin is needed to help the body use the sugar for energy. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce or produces very little insulin (type 1 diabetes), or cannot use the insulin that is produced (type 2 diabetes). When insulin is not available, the sugar from food stays in the bloodstream causing blood sugars to rise. Diabetics have a problem with hyperglycemia (blood glucose levels that are too high) and hypoglycemia (when glucose levels fall too low).

Diabetes can affect anyone at any age at any time
The goal of diabetes treatment is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Ideal ranges are 80 to 120 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) before meals and 100 to 140 mg/dL at bedtime. Left untreated, diabetes leads to devastating damage to blood vessels, nerves and other internal structures.

Researchers have not yet discovered a cure for diabetes. For the time being, we can only do our best to control the disease with careful management and treatment. A person with diabetes will need to have close medical follow-up throughout his or her life to control blood glucose levels and to prevent serious complications.

Is Diabetes Serious?

Diabetes is a leading cause of death by disease. If left untreated or improperly managed, the high levels of blood sugar associated with diabetes can slowly damage both the small and large blood vessels in the body, resulting in a variety of complications.

Who Has It?

Over 2 million Canadians. Diabetes can affect anyone, at any age, at any time. People of Aboriginal, Hispanic and African descent have a higher prevalence of diabetes. For First Nation Canadians, diabetes is at least three to five times higher than the rest of Canada’s population. 80% of people with diabetes are overweight. 89% of people with diabetes have one or more risk factors over which they can control: smoking, obesity and hypertension.

What Is Insulin?

In the days before insulin therapy, diabetes was a slow but sure death sentence that typically struck children and adults under 30.

Insulin is a hormone which is produced in the pancreas. When the levels of glucose (sugar) in our bloodstream increase, the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin’s mission is to facilitate the transfer to glucose to body cells so that all of the body’s functions are adequately fueled. The insulin connects to the cell’s receptors, which triggers an “unlock” mechanism and allows the glucose to pass through the cellular wall where it can be broken down and used for energy. If there is no insulin available or if the receptors are not working properly, then glucose is unable to filter through the cells and the body literally starves, no matter how much glucose is circulating in the blood.

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