Diabetes Mellitus

What is Diabetes?

The disorder called diabetes meilitus is actually two very different diseases that share a common feature: high blood sugar. The kind of diabetes that usually develops in childhood (juvenile-onset diabetes or Type we diabetes) occurs because something—a viral infection or a chemical toxin—has destroyed the cells in the body that produce insulin. Without enough insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, the body cannot store the calories coming in, and they run right through the body as "sugar" in the urine. A person with this kind of diabetes will develop weight loss, ravenous appetite and thirst, and constant urination. This kind of diabetes requires that the person take injections of insulin and be under the care of a knowledgeable physician. A person suffering from Type 1 diabetes can certainly improve with proper nutrition and regular exercise, but without the ability to make insulin, he or she cannot treat the disease by diet alone.

DiabetesThe other kind of diabetes that comes on in adulthood (adultonset or Type II diabetes) develops not from lack of insulin but from overabundance of it. In all of us, when we eat, our blood sugar rises and this signals the gland that makes insulin (the pancreas) to do so. The insulin acts on sensors in the tissues to allow them to take up the sugar from the blood to use or to store away, and the blood sugar falls to normal. In some people, the pancreas overresponds to the call for insulin, providing too much of it. The high levels of insulin, over time, damage the sensors in the tissues, making them insensitive or unresponsive to that amount of insulin. Then the pancreas must make more, and more, and more to make the sensors respond to bring the blood sugar back to normal. As long as the pancreas can make more insulin, it will, and the body can control blood sugar; however, at some point, the sensors become so damaged that the full capacity of insulin available from the pancreas is no longer enough to bring blood sugar back down to normal. Once that point comes, the blood sugar begins to rise, and adult-onset diabetes mellitus has developed.

The overabundance of insulin can cause other mischief in adultonset diabetics: the production of cholesterol, triglycerides (other blood fats), heart disease, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, salt and fluid retention, and the storage of excess body fat. This disorder, if caught and treated in time, will respond virtually completely to nutritional rehabilitation and the symptoms will come under control. But diabetes is an unforgiving disorder—keeping it controlled requires constancy and vigilant adherence to your nutritional regimen. You can learn to control it, but the metabolic tendency to produce too much insulin in response to diet always remains. Given access to the wrong kinds of foods, your diabetic state will return, and with it the whole host of medical maladies that were present before.

One final word: If you are an adult-onset diabetic, already taking insulin shots or medication by mouth to control your sugar, you must undertake this kind of nutritional regimen only under the care of your personal physician, who can help you adjust the doses of these medications safely as your blood sugar control improves. The control will happen quickly if you adhere strictly to the regimen, and in order to check your sugar and blood pressure (which will also drop quite precipitously) frequently, you may want to invest in (and learn to use) a home blood glucose testing machine and a blood pressure cuff. That way, you can monitor your readings, record them, and report them to your physician, who can help you reduce your medications safely. You could develop insulin shock or severe low blood sugar or blood pressure if you continue to take the same doses of medication on this kind of nutritional regimen. We also strongly recommend you find, read, and reread a copy of the book Diabetes Type //(Prentice Hall, 1990) by a diabetic physician named Richard Bernstein, which is by far the best book currently available on controlling this disease. But now, let's look at what nutrition can do to help you.

 
 
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