What Is Diabetes Mellitus?

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Story at-a-glance -

  • WebMD defines diabetes mellitus (also known simply as diabetes) as “a chronic, lifelong condition that affects your body's ability to use the energy found in food.”
  • Diabetes is potentially reversible — and completely preventable — without having to resort to conventional drugs

According to an analysis of global health trends from the year 1990 up to 2013,1 there has been a striking and alarming rise in the occurrence of diabetes mellitus, a trend that continues now, especially in the United States. In a study published in 2015, it’s said that at least 50 percent of American adults2 are now either in a state of prediabetes or are already struggling with the illness.

The American Diabetes Association says 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the population, have diabetes, while 84.1 million U.S. adults age 18 and older had prediabetes.3 Even children are now being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, with the numbers continuing to rise.

Diabetes is an illness that can affect anyone. It’s now a leading cause of death — according to the Diabetes Research Institute, diabetes now takes more lives compared to breast cancer and AIDS combined — claiming the life of one American every three minutes.4 But what exactly is diabetes mellitus? Why does it happen and how can you break free from it?

Defining Diabetes Mellitus

WebMD defines diabetes mellitus (also known simply as diabetes) as “a chronic, lifelong condition that affects your body's ability to use the energy found in food.”5 This is a group of metabolic diseases wherein the glucose that you get from food remains in your bloodstream (high blood sugar).

When you eat, your body transforms food into a special sugar (glucose) that your cells use for energy. However, in order for your cells to be able to take in the glucose and use it as fuel, it first needs a particular hormone called insulin.6 This essential hormone is produced in your pancreas.

In normal, healthy people, the pancreas does a good job of providing your body with just the right amount of insulin it needs. Insulin “opens” your cells and lets glucose enter so it can be used for energy.7

However, if you have diabetes, it means that your insulin production is inadequate, the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin, or a combination of these two factors. Because the cells are unable to take in the glucose, it then builds up in your blood where it wreaks havoc on your health.8

There Are Actually Two More Hormones That Play a Role in Diabetes Mellitus

Aside from insulin, however, there are two more hormones that can predispose you to diabetes: leptin and ghrelin. Produced by your fat cells, leptin is a hormone that is responsible for telling the brain three things:

  • You have enough stored fat
  • You have eaten enough
  • You are burning calories at a normal rate

In addition, leptin is also necessary for your immune system, fertility and energy burning.

Meanwhile, ghrelin is the hormone that tells your body that you’re hungry. It’s secreted by the lining of your stomach. Since ghrelin is influenced by the growth hormone in your body, it tends to work differently in women and men.

These two hormones, along with insulin, are the three primary players (along with other factors) in the occurrence of diabetes.

If there is a problem in your body’s leptin or ghrelin signaling, then you tend to consume too much food for your activity level and metabolism rate, resulting in weight gain and obesity. And once obesity sets in, your cells become insulin-resistant, predisposing you to high blood glucose levels.

What Happens to Your Body When You Have Diabetes?

The excessively high levels of sugar in your blood cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in different body organs. This includes the heart, kidneys, nervous system and eyes. This is why diabetes has been widely associated with a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems and blindness, stroke and nerve damage in the feet.9

People with diabetes also experience various symptoms, the most common of which are frequent urination, increasing thirst and always being hungry.10

You Can Manage Diabetes Through Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Living with diabetes can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. It’s also a financial burden for most people — annually, this illness costs the American public over $245 billion.11

The good news is that diabetes is potentially reversible — and completely preventable — without having to resort to conventional drugs. All it takes is a few disciplined lifestyle tweaks, particularly in your diet, so that you can avoid this damaging disease.

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Diabetes: An Introduction

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Causes of Diabetes

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