How Diabetes Happens

Diabetes is a chronic illness, which means it lasts a long time, perhaps for life. It is not contagious. Diabetes occurs because the body cannot properly use the sugar that comes from food. The body gets most of its quick energy from a kind of sugar called glucose, and it pulls glucose out of food during digestion. The process of digestion breaks down food into very, very small parts that can be absorbed by the bloodstream. Diabetes results when something happens to disrupt part of this process.

When a person begins eating, digestion also begins. Saliva starts the complex process of breaking down that bite of chicken or bread or apple even before it leaves the mouth. Swallowing food sends it down the esophagus and delivers it to the stomach, where strong natural acids called gastric juices continue breaking down the food into smaller and smaller pieces.

The intestines are next in line in the digestion process. An average adult human intestine can be more than 30 feet (9m) long, divided into the small and large intestines. Food traveling all that way has plenty of time to break down into the tiniest, most basic forms our bodies can use, including molecules of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins. One important kind of carbohydrate is the sugar called glucose, which keeps muscles moving and creates important chemical reactions in the body by providing instant energy.

Glucose is also the only energy source for the brain. It is absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream, and then it travels to every part of the body.

The pancreas is a flat gland located behind the stomach. It is about the size of a hand. Inside the pancreas are thousands of cell clusters called islets of Langerhans, and they contain a special kind of cell called beta cells. The beta cells create insulin, which is a hormone that combines with glucose to help glucose move into all the trillions of cells in the body and give them energy so they can do their jobs well. A healthy pancreas produces just the right amount of insulin around the clock, based on the amount of glucose circulating in the bloodstream. (This glucose in the bloodstream is also called blood sugar.)

However, if the pancreas cannot make insulin, or if the body cannot use the insulin it produces, the glucose cannot get into the cells. It stays in the bloodstream, keeping the blood sugar levels high and causing damage to the organs in the body. For instance, the eyes of a diabetic person can be damaged by high blood sugars causing blockages in the tiny blood vessels or preventing enough oxygen from reaching the eyes. This can lead to blindness. Diabetes can also cause the kidneys to fail, and then they cannot properly eliminate waste products from the body, which leads to death. Diabetes harms the nervous system by causing a condition called neuropathy. When neuropathy affects the nerves in the feet or legs, they become numb. This can lead to serious foot infections and even amputation of the feet or legs.

Four types of diabetes affect millions of Americans as well as millions of other people around the world. They are type 2, type 1, type 1.5, and gestational. By far, the most common is type 2.

Diabetes 2

Diabetes 2

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body uses food. Normally, your body converts sugars, starches and other foods into a form of sugar called glucose. Your body uses glucose for fuel. The cells receive the glucose through the bloodstream. They then use insulin a hormone made by the pancreas to absorb the glucose, convert it into energy, and either use it or store it for later use. Learn more...

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