By Danielle Lane, Managing Editor
“Do you have the good kind or the bad kind?”
“Can you eat that?”
“Are you allowed to eat sugar?”
These are a few of the VERY frustrating questions that I have been repeatedly asked since being diagnosed with Type One Diabetes 12 years ago. Over the last 12 years, I have realized how little people know about diabetes. I don’t blame people for their ignorance, as the people in my life knew very little about the disease before my diagnosis, but it is time to shed some much needed light on the facts of what diabetes really is.
According to the CDC, diabetes is “a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.” What this means is that when we eat food, a hormone called insulin breaks down the large food particles into glucose molecules. The body then uses that glucose as energy to fuel the body. Individuals with diabetes either no longer produce insulin, or their body is unable to utilize the insulin it does make. Diabetes has been broken down into two main groupings: type one and type two.
Type One Diabetes:
Individuals who have been diagnosed with Type One Diabetes (T1D) no longer produce insulin. This typically occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself and destroys the cells necessary to produce insulin. This often occurs during adolescence, and therefore T1D is frequently also called “juvenile diabetes.” In order to replace the insulin that the body no longer produces, individuals with T1D either take insulin injections or wear an insulin pump, which allows for a constant stream of insulin to enter the body. To ensure the proper dosage of insulin, diabetics must continually monitor their blood sugar. T1D is chronic and there is no known cure yet.
Type Two Diabetes:
Individuals who have been diagnosed with Type Two Diabetes (T2D) are still able to produce insulin, but their bodies are unable to use it properly to regulate blood sugar. T2D patients are able to manage their disease through diet, exercise, and occasionally medication– either orally or through injections. As with individuals with T1D, individuals with T2D are also required to closely monitor their blood sugar. Unlike Type One Diabetes, however, Type Two Diabetes can be cured through proper diet, exercise, and medication.
Diabetes is a complex and multi-level disease. One article is not sufficient to fully explain the intricacies of the disease, but hopefully understanding more about the disease can debunk some common misconceptions. First of all, one does not develop diabetes if they are “too fat” or “eat too much sugar.” Both forms of diabetes are autoimmune diseases. There is no known cause for T1D and often T2D can be caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Secondly, no food is bad or off limits to a diabetic. Diabetics are taught that through proper medication and lifestyle choices they are able to enjoy many different foods in moderation. Just as someone without diabetes shouldn’t eat an entire pizza or cake in one sitting, neither should a diabetic. Rather a few pieces in moderation is the healthiest option. Finally, there is no “good” or “bad” diabetes. Both forms of diabetes come with their own challenges. It is rude and belittling to act as if anyone’s illness is better or worse than others.
Whether it is your grandparent, your roommate, or a stranger on the train, it is very likely that you will come in contact with many diabetics throughout your life as according to the CDC approximately 1 in 10 adults have diabetes. No one expects you to know everything or even to say the right thing, but please remember we are all fighting a hard battle and often kindness is the best medicine (but still take your insulin!!!).