Diabetes is a term for glucose intolerance where the body cannot adequately manage the blood glucose levels. This is usually caused by insulin resistance (intolerance), reduced levels of insulin or the absence of insulin. Insulin is the hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps regulate blood glucose levels. When insulin is secreted, the body cells increase the uptake of glucose from the blood and excess glucose is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle cells. Any glucose above and beyond may be converted into fat and stored in fat cells.
When insulin is low (absent or reduced) or if the body’s cells do not respond to insulin (insulin resistance/intolerance) the body cannot manage its glucose regulating mechanism effectively. This causes glucose to remain in the blood (hyperglycemia) and over time, these elevated glucose levels will cause damage to various organs.
While certain predisposing factors may give rise to diabetes, like being overweight, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption and familial history, the exact cause of diabetes was not conclusively isolated. However there is significant evidence pointing to a possible immune cause to diabetes. An ‘overactive’ immune response may target the insulin producing cells of the pancreas (beta cells of the islets of Langerhan’s), thereby damaging these cells and affecting insulin production. This mainly occurs in juvenile diabetes (children) or insulin-dependent diabetes and may be an indication of an autoimmune cause of diabetes. It is also known that certain childhood infections may occur prior to the onset of diabetes, indicating that the body’s natural defenses (immune system) targets the pancreas, either as a result of infectious agents in the pancreas or antibodies lodging in the pancreas.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on December 1, 2009