Let's Talk About Type 1 Diabetes

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Diabetes, Blood Sugar
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Type 2 diabetes information and research can be found all over the place, but much less is written about type 1. That’s likely because the vast majority of people living with diabetes have type 2. Nevertheless, type 1 diabetes warrants discussion. 

Type 1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes because it usually appears before the age of 20 (though it can crop up at any age), results from the inability of the pancreas to produce adequate insulin. Insulin is the nutritional storage hormone. Produced in specialized beta cells located in areas of the pancreas called the Islets of Langerhans, insulin is the key that opens up cells to glucose and other nutrients. If there is not enough insulin in the bloodstream to “unlock” these cells so that nutrients can get in, cells literally starve to death.  

Not surprisingly, classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes include extreme hunger as the body tries to compensate for this inability to feed its cells, and rapid weight loss as the cells are unable to utilize food, regardless of how much is eaten. In addition, untreated individuals with type 1 diabetes are extremely thirsty, drink copious amounts of fluids, and urinate excessively. This is because the kidneys, in an attempt to keep things in balance, excrete as much excess glucose via the urine as they possibly can.  

People with type 1 diabetes are often diagnosed in the emergency room—dehydrated, wasting away, and sometimes in a life-threatening diabetic coma. Their blood glucose is sky high, usually between 350 and 750 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL; normal is 80 to 110 mg/dL).  

This type of diabetes is defined as an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes the immune system to attack, but viral infections are one possible cause.   

But to reiterate, only 10 percent of all people dealing with diabetes have this form of the disease. For the other 90 percent, lifestyle factors—the foods you choose to eat, the supplements you take, your activity level, and your weight—determine whether or not you will develop diabetes and what course it will take if you already have it. 

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