Understanding How Type Diabetes Works

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Type 1 diabetes is all about glucose and insulin. What's the difference? Here's what you need to know:

i Glucose is one of many sugars, but it happens to be the specific sugar found in your blood that provides instant energy. Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the three sources of energy in your body, along with protein and fat.

i Insulin is a chemical known as a hormone, which means that it's made in an organ, in this case the pancreas, and carried around the body in the bloodstream. The function of insulin is to act as a key to the "door" in each cell of the body that opens to allow glucose in. However, not every cell requires insulin to get its glucose; some cells and organs take up glucose without using insulin. These include

• The retinas of the eyes

• Blood vessels

Figure 2-1 shows the pancreas and its parts along with its location behind the stomach. The insulin-producing and insulin-storing pancreas cells (called B or beta cells) are found in groups called islets of Langerhans throughout the pancreas. Other cells present in the islets of Langerhans include A cells, which produce glucagon, a hormone that's very important to patients with diabetes because it raises blood glucose when it gets too low; and D cells, which make somatostatin, a hormone that blocks the secretion of other hormones but doesn't have a use in diabetes because it causes high blood glucose.

In people who don't have type 1 diabetes, the presence of insulin helps control the conversion of glucose into energy in the body. People with type 1 diabetes, however, go through a triggering event (most likely a viral infection) that leads to a lack of insulin in the body, which in turn leads to having uncontrolled glucose (and that can cause some bad stuff to happen). I explain how the whole process works in the following sections.

Figure 2-1:

The pancreas, its parts, and its location.

Figure 2-1:

The pancreas, its parts, and its location.

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