A Moment of Science

Sweet and Sour

People have always linked diabetes and sweets: its full name, Diabetes Mellitus, means “honey siphon.” But why do we think of sweets when we think of this disease?

Contrary to rumor, diabetes is not caused by eating too many sweets: rather, it’s caused by many factors, including genetics, other glandular diseases, chemicals, and factors that scientists are still discovering.

One reason that diabetes might be linked with sugar is because diabetes always involves glucose, which is a building block of foods like bread, rice and, yes, table sugar. After digestion, glucose travels throughout the body in the blood stream. It enters all of our cells with the help of a hormone called insulin: insulin picks up the glucose and carries it into each cell, like a groom carrying a bride over the threshold.

In diabetes, the happy union of glucose and insulin goes sour. There are really two types of diabetes: their names are “type one” and “type two.” In type one, the body stops producing insulin. Without it, glucose can’t get into the cells of the body and just collects in the blood, causing hunger, thirst, weight loss and fatigue. In type two, the cells of the body resist insulin so only a little gets in and again glucose collects in the blood stream: people call this having “high blood sugar.”

Diabetes is treated by restoring the glucose-insulin relationship. Type one is treated with shots of insulin, and type two may be treated with medication. Nevertheless, diabetes is a serious disease that, sadly, doesn’t have a happy ending…yet.

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