Diabetes education could save lives

Friday, November 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

About 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, and many more might not realize they have the disease. Tomorrow is National Diabetes Day, and experts at University of Missouri Health Care encourage everyone to learn more about the condition and assess their risk level.

“To understand diabetes, it is important to first understand the normal process of food metabolism,” said Elaine Rehmer, administrator at the Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at University Hospital.

Several things happen when food is digested. First, a sugar called glucose enters the body, acting as a source of fuel for the body. Next, the pancreas makes insulin to regulate blood sugar, moving it from the bloodstream into muscle, fat and liver cells.

“Individuals with diabetes have high blood glucose (sugar),” Rehmer said. “This is because their pancreas does not make enough insulin. They have a resistance to insulin, or both.”

There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, which usually occurs during childhood or adolescence; Type 2, the most common form occurring after age 45; and gestational diabetes, which usually occurs halfway through a pregnancy as a result of excessive hormone production in the body.

Type 1 and 2 diabetes have different causes, but two factors are important in both. First, an individual must inherit a predisposition to the disease. Second, something in that person’s environment must trigger diabetes. Genes alone are not enough in assessing a person’s risk factor.

Type 1 diabetes results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, the hormone that ‘unlocks’ the cells of the body, allowing them to enter and fuel them. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys the cells that make insulin.

One trigger for many of these individuals is cold weather. It is believed that Type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in colder climates.

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger genetic basis than Type 1 and is far more common than Type 1, making up about 90 percent of all diabetes cases. Type 2 usually occurs in adulthood.

In these cases, the pancreas does not make enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal, often because the body does not respond well to the insulin.

Many people with this form of diabetes remain undiagnosed for many years and are unaware they have diabetes until complications such as heart disease or kidney failure take them to the doctor.

Research shows that Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common because of the growing number of older Americans, increasing obesity levels and a widespread lack of exercise.

Finally, women who get diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) are more likely to have a family history of diabetes. But as with other types of diabetes, nongenetic factors play a role.

Older mothers and overweight women are more likely to get gestational diabetes.

Although diabetes occurs in people of all ages and races, some groups have a higher risk of developing the disease than others. For example, diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

Unfortunately, more than 400,000 individuals ages 25 years and older die from diabetes every year. But with continuing research, that number is expected to decrease.

“Research provides us with the answers health-care providers need to detect and treat diabetes when the outcomes are best,” Rehmer said. “The physicians I work with continually stress the importance of early diagnosis and optimal therapy to control the disease.”

To learn more about diabetes, representatives from MU Health Care invite the public to the 12th Annual Diabetes Day Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cosmopolitan Community Center, 1715 Burlington St.

Monica Moore is the media relations coordinator for MU Health Care.

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