Updated: Dec 21, 2020
We’ve been inundated with new patients since our last blog, and this is the first chance we’ve had to write something new. Let’s get to it!
Type 2 Diabetes: Part I
Our next few blogs will discuss Type 2 diabetes and the effects it has on the body. You may be aware of what diabetes is and even have friends or family members who live with it, but it’s the long-term effects that we’ll be focusing on. With London now in Tier 4, shorter days and poor weather for running or cycling the temptation to stay home and devour something savoury may have lasting repercussions
© Diabetes UK 2019
Diabetes is a disease
Type 2 diabetes is not the one you’re born with (that’s Type 1), but a chronic disease caused by a variety of genetic and lifestyle risk factors. The reason we’re focusing on Type 2 is not only is it the most common type of diabetes, but many people suffering from it may not even be aware they’re diabetic in the first place.
While there's a lot of information available on the subject, diabetes is rarely acknowledged or publicly portrayed as a disease but more of a personal failing, or if you're watching TV - a last-minute plot device.
To learn about the effect of diabetes however, it's useful to first learn more about glucose, insulin and carbohydrates.
How we turn food into energy
Every part of our body from the heart to the muscles is made up of cells. Each cell (there are around 30 trillion of them in each of us) requires energy to work, and this comes from the food that we eat. One of the most important sources of energy is from carbohydrates.
Carbs get a bad rep but the fact is they're more widespread than we realise, and are a vital part of any healthy diet. They are in fact macronutrients, one of the three main ways our bodies acquire energy, and because our bodies can't make them we need a lot. Carbs are broken down by the body into various sugars and starches but the one sugar we’re going to concentrate on is glucose.
As your meal travels through your stomach and on into your small intestines, the glucose is absorbed and winds up being released into your bloodstream. You sometimes hear this being referred to as ‘blood sugar levels’. The blood is only a delivery system though, and it still needs a way to get into those 30 trillion cells.
How energy gets into our cells
This is where insulin comes in – a hormone released by the pancreas. The pancreas is a long, thin gland that sits behind the stomach and is highly sensitive to changes in blood sugar. Within a few seconds of glucose entering the bloodstream, the pancreas senses the change and releases insulin.
The role of insulin
Insulin is what instructs the cells in your body to allow the glucose molecules to enter, letting each cell know that the glucose molecule is safe. As glucose moves into the cells and out of the bloodstream the pancreas senses a drop in blood sugar levels and begins to slow down insulin production. This process goes on day and night and is affected by when and how much we eat.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia © FX Networks 2012
What should my blood sugar level be at?
In a normal adult without diabetes, a normal target is 4 to 7mmol/l before eating and under 8.5 to 9mmol/l 2 hours after a meal. A heavy meal can cause this to spike past 8.5 before settling, while going hungry for several hours can cause your blood sugar levels to drop below 4. If you’ve ever felt sluggish or irritable after missing your meal, it’s because there’s not enough glucose entering your cells.
So the more I eat, the more energy I have?
Your body can only process so much at a time, so the extra glucose is stored in your liver and muscles. The glucose is packed into larger molecules called glycogen, and glycogen is stashed throughout the body for when you need a quick burst of energy, or you haven’t eaten for some time. Insulin also helps our bodies store fat and protein
Our bodies are constantly fine-tuning insulin production to balance our meal intake and provide our cells with the energy needed to perform everything we do, from the physical activities we enjoy to the autonomic functions that we don’t even think of.
Hopefully, this has dusted off a few science lessons and reminded you of how our bodies convert food into glucose, and how insulin helps convert glucose to energy or store it for later use.
How diabetes changes all this will be discussed in Part 2!