I’m not a doctor. I’m just a massage therapist with lots of experience with diabetes. I watched my mother and sister struggle with diabetes for as long as I can remember. My mother taking medication for type 2 diabetes and my younger sister injecting insulin for type 1 diabetes.
My mother and sister took medication and injected insulin for years, and at first it was beneficial. But as the amount of medication increased, so did the complications associated with diabetes. Diabetes can lead to fatigue, eye damage, nerve damage, kidney failure and a host of other symptoms and complications.
No amount of medication stopped my sister’s kidneys from failing. She is currently on the transplant list.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes (a precursor to diabetes) and placed on medication. After witnessing firsthand that medication alone wouldn’t be enough to avoid future complications from diabetes, I decided to take action. I wouldn’t let diabetes place me on a slow ride to drugs, debilitation and dialysis.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which an individual has high levels of glucose in the blood stream for extended periods of time. Glucose is a simple sugar molecule that powers the body like gasoline powers a car.
Normally, your liver releases glucose into your bloodstream between meals. This spike in blood glucose level signals the pancreas to produce insulin. Glucose, with the help of insulin, enters the cells of the body to be converted to energy.
Cells have membranes that act as protective barriers to keep unwanted objects out, but insulin is a hormone that travels through the bloodstream, making cells receptive to glucose. Insulin attaches to receptors on cell membranes, increasing their permeability, allowing glucose to enter the cell. Inside the cell, glucose is converted to energy that powers movement, thoughts and just about everything else in the body.
However, persistently high levels of glucose in the bloodstream mean that glucose is not entering the cells to be converted to energy and power the body. There are two reasons for high blood glucose levels. Either the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or cells are resistant to the insulin being produced by the body. This is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that damages the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin. Normally, the immune system defends the body against disease by attacking unhealthy cells. Autoimmune means that the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake, physiological “friendly fire.”
Damage to the pancreas leads to low or no insulin production in the body. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter various cells in the body to be converted to energy.
A type 1 diabetic person is considered “insulin dependent,” because they require insulin by way of oral medication or injection.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is not due to low insulin production, but rather to high insulin resistance. Normally, insulin interacts with the cell membrane and changes its permeability.
With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces enough insulin but the cells of the body resist it. Glucose remains in the bloodstream instead of being converted to energy inside the cell.
A type 2 diabetic is considered “insulin resistant,” and are prescribed medication designed to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the amount of glucose released by the liver.
So now we know, in simple terms, what diabetes is and how it works, but why does diabetes occur in the first place? As with many pathologies, it’s a combination of genetics, environment and lifestyle. For this discussion, we will focus on type 2 diabetes.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Remember, type 2 diabetes is due to high insulin resistance in the cells of the body. So the real question is: what causes cells to resist insulin?
Let’s use a metaphor to understand what’s happening. Let’s say that glucose (sugar) is a traveler looking for lodging. Insulin is the key that opens the locked door to the house. The house in this scenario is the cell and the locked door is the cell membrane, the protective barrier that keeps unwanted visitors out.
Normally, insulin, the key, is able to increase permeability or “open” the cell membrane, the door, allowing glucose to enter the cell to be converted to energy. But with type 2 diabetes, it’s like the lock to the door is jammed with gum, making it difficult to open even when the key is used. Metaphorically speaking, gum is fat inside the cells, resisting insulin’s ability to change the permeability of the cell and allow glucose to enter.
To be clear, intracellular lipids, the fat inside cells, is not the same as the fat around the waistline. It is very possible for someone to be thin and relatively healthy and still have high levels of intracellular fat. So this is not about reducing calories and losing weight, even though weight loss is a byproduct of reducing intracellular fat.
The question you should be asking yourself now is: Can I reduce the levels of fat inside the cells that cause them to resist insulin? How can I get the gum out of the lock?
Can Type 2 Diabetes be Reversed?
The most important thing to know about diabetes, at least type 2 diabetes, is this: it is NOT an irreversible condition. Type 2 diabetes can be reversed. To reverse diabetes means to eliminate or greatly reduce the need for medication. This is done gradually over time and under the supervision of your doctor. Please work with your doctor to decide if or when it is appropriate for you to reduce your medication.
Type 2 diabetes can be reversed and the complications from type 1 diabetes can be greatly reduced or avoided all together. The next couple of blog posts in this series will discuss “3 Simple Steps to Reverse Type 2 Diabetes” and “Eliminating Type 1 Diabetes Complications.”