What is Diabetes?

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Filed Under: Diabetes, Blood Sugar
Last Reviewed 03/25/2014

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes (or diabetes mellitus) is arguably the biggest health problem facing our nation today. According to the National Diabetes Clearinghouse, almost 26 million Americans, or just over 8 percent of our population, had diabetes in 2011. And that number is growing daily.

What is Diabetes?

You have diabetes when your blood sugar level (also called the blood glucose level) rises above normal and stays elevated.

Glucose is a simple sugar that is a major source of fuel for cells and energy for the entire body. Our body converts most of the food we consume into glucose. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, makes the hormone insulin, which helps glucose and other nutrients enter the cells. However, when there is either not enough insulin in the bloodstream to open the cells so that nutrients can get in, or the cells stop responding to the insulin, the cells literally starve to death.

There Are Three Main Types of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Also referred to as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to make insulin. It usually appears before the age of 20, although it can present at any time in your life.

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease that attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and it cannot be prevented or reversed.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes. Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes do produce insulin. However, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body does not use it properly—a condition known as insulin resistance. These insulin imbalances cause glucose to build up in the blood, which leads to cell damage throughout the body.

With the right diet and lifestyle adjustments, type 2 diabetes is can be treated and often reversed.

Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes can also occur during pregnancy as a result of fluctuating hormone levels. This condition is called gestational diabetes and usually resolves itself after the woman delivers her baby.

More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Diabetes

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