Diabetes...Why Africa should be alarmed! pt 1: Understanding Diabetes

Some of you might be misinformed or simply might be wondering what is diabetes? Some of you even ignorantly assume that it is a "sugar" disease. Well this is not the case. For a simple definition it would be more correct to say diabetes is an "insulin" disease, but just saying this doesn't tell the whole story.

There are two main forms of diabetes Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is a genetic disease where the body doesn't produce enough insulin or any insulin at all for its needs. Type 2 is not really considered genetic in the same sense, though this leaves room for a whole different discussion, it is an acquired disease where the body has lost the ability to regulate and/or use insulin correctly. As 90% of all diabetes cases are of Type 2, this post will be about Type 2 diabetes.

First let me answer your question as to what exactly insulin is and what is its function in our body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in the body which regulates the metabolism of food in your body. All food we eat gets broken down to glucose (sugar), and insulin allows for glucose to be taken out of the blood stream and into the tissues of our body to be used for energy. Diabetes is present when the cells of our body are no longer responsive to insulin so sugar remains in the blood causing us to have high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Most people with Type 2 Diabetes continue to make insulin on their own, but their muscle cells have become insulin resistance(desensitized to insulin) due to the continued over production of insulin from excess consumption of processed foods or eating large quantities of carbohydrates several times day without exercise.

You see when you eat processed foods and worse processed carbohydrates devoid of fiber and protein, the body does not have to work hard to break down the food, so you will get a rapid spike in blood sugar. Insulin will respond to this rapid spike, and If you continuously eat these foods through the day without activity your insulin levels will remain high throughout the day. This is what leads to insulin resistance. Eventually your cells stop being as responsive to the insulin as levels are always high, you need more and more insulin to push sugar into your cells. At this point you have diabetes. Hyperglycemia(high blood sugar) is a pathological symptom of the disease cause. The high blood sugar leads to other health problems and complications throughout the body.

Diabetes is a very serious disease, and in it's advanced and uncontrolled stage can lead to Neuropathy (nerve damage), Nephropathy (kidney disease), and Retinopathy (eye problems). When not managed people with diabetes typically die from kidney failure, infection, stroke, or heart disease which diabetes also predisposed the body to

With all that said, there is more to diabetes but I have provided the basics here. Check out PART 2 of this post for more about Diabetes and Africa

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