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According to the Center for Disease Control, we are eating ourselves into a diabetes epidemic. The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) says that, “Diabetes and obesity are the biggest public health challenge of the 21st century.” The supporting statistics they cite are staggering: As of 1999, diabetes affected 16 million (six percent) of Americans – an increase of 40 percent in just ten years. Although both diabetes and obesity risk factors are often associated with race, age, and family history, it’s becoming more and more clear that the conveniences of modern life also contribute to the development of both diseases. For example, sedentary lifestyles (reduced physical activity) and the popularity of high fat, high energy diets (think “Super Size Me”) and convenient foods are known to lead to obesity – but do they also cause diabetes? There are two major types of diabetes, called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes was also formerly called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or juvenile onset diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas undergoes an autoimmune attack by the body itself, and is rendered incapable of making insulin. Abnormal antibodies have been found in the majority of patients with type 1 diabetes. Antibodies are proteins in the blood that are part of the body's immune system. The patient with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin medication for survival. In autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly manufactures antibodies and inflammatory cells that are directed against and cause damage to patients' own body tissues. In persons with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for insulin production, are attacked by the misdirected immune system. It is believed that the tendency to develop abnormal antibodies in type 1 diabetes is, in part, genetically inherited, though the details are not fully understood. Exposure to certain viral infections (mumps) or other environmental toxins may serve to trigger abnormal antibody responses that cause damage to the pancreas cells where insulin is made. Some of the antibodies seen in type 1 diabetes include anti-islet cell antibodies, anti-insulin antibodies and anti-glutamic decarboxylase antibodies. These antibodies can be detected in the majority of patients, and may help determine which individuals are at risk for developing type 1 diabetes.
Of the people diagnosed with type II diabetes, about 80 to 90 percent are also diagnosed as obese. This fact provides an interesting clue to the link between diabetes and obesity. Understanding what causes the disease will hopefully allow us to prevent diabetes in the future. Being overweight places extra stress on your body in a variety of ways, including your body’s ability to maintain proper blood glucose levels. In fact, being overweight can cause your body to become resistant to insulin. If you already have diabetes, this means you will need to take even more insulin to get sugar into your cells. And if you don’t have diabetes, the prolonged effects of the insulin resistance can eventually cause you to develop the disease. Weight gain is common in people who take insulin to treat diabetes. That’s because the more insulin you use to maintain your blood glucose level, the more glucose is absorbed into your cells, rather than eliminated by your body. The absorbed glucose is stored as fat, which makes you gain weight. Of course, that just one of the links between insulin and weight gain. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll need to modify your diet accordingly. Otherwise, it’s probable that you’ll gain weight once you begin taking insulin – which will only compound the problem your body already has maintaining proper blood glucose levels, as well as increase your risk of diabetes-related complications. In reality, once you begin taking insulin to treat diabetes, you really...
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