Type What? Understanding Diabetes

Disclaimer** (Because everyone needs one in this day and age, apparently)

Before I start this post, I just want to let my readers know that I am in no way a medical professional. Everything I write in this post and every other blog post is strictly what I believe to be true and what I have learned based on information from doctor’s, the Diabetes Online Community (DOC), certified educators, books, personal experience and other research.

Ok, with that out of the way, here is the long anticipated Diabetes 1.0 crash course.

I know you’ve been waiting for this post longer than Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1. You don’t have to admit it now, it’s ok. I’m excited too!

I decided to write this post out of necessity. A lot of my readers (who are also my beloved friends and family) as well as those who happen to stumble across my blog (you guys are awesome!) might not know a thing at all about diabetes. But because I am who I am, I like to educate and advocate.

I also don’t like being told that I “am so young” and that I “can reverse my diabetes through diet and exercise.” Misconceptions, people. I don’t like ‘em, so I write about ‘em.

A list of other misconceptions:

-All diabetics will lose their feet

-All diabetics will go blind

-All diabetics need insulin

-All diabetics became diabetic because they ate too much sugar, had a poor diet, etc.

-All diabetics can stop taking their medicine by having a proper diet and exercise

-Diabetes is easy because all you have to do is take medicine

-Diabetics can’t eat sugar

-Only kids get Type 1 diabetes

-Only obese and older adults get Type 2 diabetes

The list could go on and on. Just Google it if you want more.

None of those things are true though.

Every person who is diagnosed with diabetes is different. Every person will need a different treatment plan. Every person will experience their diabetes in a completely unique and independent way from anything you could ever read. There is no “typical” diabetic.

The most important thing for non-diabetics to do is be supportive. Many feel the urge to blame a person who is diagnosed with diabetes because they think it could have been prevented  if they had eaten less sugar, lost a few pounds or exercised more.

Not true. Diabetics are not to blame. It’s not a blame game. And believe me, most people who are diagnosed with diabetes don’t need to be blamed. They are too busy placing the blame on themselves, wondering what they could have done to prevent the disease.

Short answer is nothing. Nothing could have been done to prevent the disease in most cases.

But media dictates that diabetes is a growing epidemic in America (which, it actually is with more cases every year) and while the reporter is talking about the rate in which people are being diagnosed, pictures of obese people are shown walking around eating bags of McDonald’s.

This correlation is then what the mass audiences see. Diabetics are unhealthy and brought the disease upon themselves.

Of course, this is true of some. But it’s also true that many non-diabetics are overweight and eat McDonald’s every day.

But this leads me to the different types of diabetes. There is Type 1, Type 2, Type 1.5 or LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes), Gestational Diabetes, MODY, etc. In this post, I’m going to focus specifically on Type 1 and Type 2, with some references to my own LADA diagnosis.

When I was first diagnosed, it was a wrong diagnosis of Type 2. Then, when I was correctly diagnosed as having Type 1.5, I got a lot of “Well, that’s not the bad one, is it?”

Yeah. It is.

But any type of diabetes is the “bad one.” It’s a disease that no one wants to live with.

But in laymen’s terms, yes, it’s the bad one.

Here’s the difference. Type 1 and 1.5 are both autoimmune diseases. This means that the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas are seen as foreign invaders by the body’s immune system. In turn, the immune system fights the “invaders,” killing off all the cells. This causes Type 1 and 1.5 diabetics to become insulin dependent. Their bodies no longer create the insulin that is needed in order to live. Why this happens, experts still aren’t sure. One theory is that Type 1 diabetics are born with a gene that, when exposed to certain environmental factors like a virus, the gene is triggered, causing the immune system to react.

Stupid immune system. Told you it was like an episode of Spartacus in my body.

Type 1 (and 1.5) are generally associated with the more severe complications that come from diabetes. The super highs and the debilitating lows. The kidney failure, the heart disease, amputations, and blindness. This is because the body relies completely on injected insulin for its survival. It requires constant monitoring and testing. It’s a big job. And 1 + 1 rarely equals 2.

Everything affects blood sugar, so Type 1 diabetics are constantly checking to make sure they are within the needed range. This is time consuming, stressful and expensive.

Test strips, insulin, insulin pumps, blood glucose meters. These things are not cheap. And the percentage of Americans without health insurance is high. Which is why a lot of people have diabetes related complications.

However, with diligent monitoring, testing and an overall conscious awareness of what you should be doing, many diabetics can live a complication free life. Good news, right!

And while I believe in holistic health and eating a good amount of raw foods, it will not reverse diabetes. Especially in Type 1 and 1.5’s. I don’t think my daily green smoothies will create insulin. Do you? Because that’s what my body needs. And last time I checked, food just couldn’t do that. (Sorry, a little ranty from a comment the other day saying I could reverse my diabetes with a raw diet)

And just so we are clear… out of all the diabetics in the world, only about 10% are Type 1/1.5. The rest are Type 2.

Type 2 diabetes is the type of diabetes you are most likely to hear about on TV. It’s the type of diabetes that can (but not always) be controlled through a good diet and exercise plan. It occurs more often in overweight people, but not always. I just found out a friend from an internship I held a while ago in college was diagnosed Type 2 in high school… and she’s itty bitty.

Type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease, though. And that makes a huge difference in the treatment. Type 2 diabetics still produce insulin, however, their bodies have become insulin resistant. This means that their body is either not producing enough insulin or the cells are ignoring the insulin that is being created, causing high blood sugar. Most do not have to use insulin daily, rather they ingest a type of oral medicine to help lower blood sugar.

Often times, many Type 2 diabetics can go off of their medicine after losing weight (if they were overweight in the first place, which can contribute to Type 2 diabetes). Through low carb diets and daily exercise, blood sugars become easier to control.

And it’s all about the number.

Speaking of, if interested here’s a breakdown of the numbers diabetics look for when testing:

Fasting Blood Sugars (the number after an eight hour fast)  >100 mg/dL
Two Hours After Eating  >140 mg/dL
Low Blood Sugar  >70 mg/dL
High Blood Sugar < 200 mg/dL

If you recall, my fasting blood sugar upon diagnosis was in the 300s with daily blood sugars in the 500s.

That would be the danger zone.

And this could have led to diabetic ketoacidosis (aka DKA) which is when there is no insulin in the body to help convert those carbs into fuel, so the body starts pulling from other fuel sources, like fat. When that fat is broken down, a type of acid called ketones builds up in the body. Ketones are very poisonous in high levels and can cause the body to go into a diabetic coma, which could lead to death.

On the flip side, there’s hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. You can read all about that in my last post where I battled that constantly this past weekend. (Speaking of, I finally had a peaceful night without pesky blood sugars keeping me awake, just cute boyfriends who call to tell me they miss me).

I know this isn’t a complete guide to diabetes. It wasn’t meant to be, though. What I wanted was for people to know that there is more to diabetes than what is shown on TV. Type 2 gets a lot of publicity, and it should considering 90% of diabetics are Type 2. But it’s not the only type of diabetes.

It’s important to understand the basic differences, such as which one is insulin dependent and which one is insulin resistant. Which one requires insulin all the time and which one requires insulin in certain cases.

It’s also important to realize that misconceptions are just that. Misconceptions. Yes, some (Type 2) diabetics can control their blood sugar through diet and exercise alone. Yes, in some cases, diabetics lose feet or they go blind. Most often, that is a result from not taking care of oneself, which is an extremely important aspect of having a chronic disease. A chronic disease is forever (until there’s a cure!) and that means forever taking care of yourself.

Knowledge is power.

 Ignorance is not bliss.

 And chronic diseases can not be reversed.

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