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    Diabetes – How Much Do You Know?

    Diabetes currently affects more than 3 million people in England and according to research from Diabetes UK, this figure is only set to increase over the coming years. Rising levels of obesity, general inactivity and eating foods with high sugar and fat contents are all touted as being causes of diabetes – but what are the facts?

    What is diabetes?

    The majority of the food that we eat is broken down into sugars (glucose) in order to provide our cells with energy. To process these sugars, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin which facilitates the absorption of glucose into the cells. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas either produces too little insulin, or none at all – causing glucose to build up in the blood and urine.

    Because the body is unable to utilise digested glucose properly, it begins to convert body fats into sugar and uses these to fuel the cells instead, resulting in rapid weight loss and intense hunger and thirst.

    Diabetics can be split into two groups or “types”:

    Type 1 Diabetes

    • Normally develops in childhood or before the age of 25.
    • Is caused by a faulty immune response which causes the body to attack and destroy the cells in the pancreas which are responsible for the generation of insulin.
    • Typically requires an insulin injection (rather than tablets) to maintain healthy glucose levels.

    Type 2 Diabetes

    • Usually develops after the age of 40. However, recent studies have shown that there has been a significant increase of the number of younger people developing Type 2 diabetes.
    • Is caused by the body either producing too little insulin or not being able to properly utilise the insulin it has produced.
    • Is linked to obesity, unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle

    What are the symptoms?

    Although symptoms can vary between the two types of diabetes, there are general symptoms which most diabetics experience, these are:

    • Excessive thirst
    • Frequent urination
    • Increased hunger
    • Extreme tiredness
    • Sudden loss of muscle mass
    • Sudden weight loss
    • Dizziness
    • Blurred vision
    • Nausea
    • Skin infections and poor healing


    The first record we have of diabetes dates from around 1552 BC! Papyrus notes from Egyptian physician Hesy-Ra mention a condition that has “frequent urination” as one of its symptoms.

    Historians think that the term “diabetes” was coined by the Greek scholar Apollonius of Memphis in around 250 BC.

    In 1889 Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski discovered the role of the pancreas in diabetes, by removing the pancreases of dogs. The animals subsequently developed diabetic symptoms. This lead to scientists studying the pancreas to further identify its role in the digestive process.

    By 1910 the English physiologist Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer had established that the pancreas, which produces insulin in healthy patients, did not produce adequate insulin in diabetics.

    Following this discovery, doctors Frederick Banting and Charles Best, along with Professor J.R.R Macleod and James Collip, begin research to research insulin. They refined and purified canine insulin so that it could be used in humans –producing the first effective treatment for diabetes in history. Before this, a diabetic diagnosis was almost always fatal.

    In 1923, Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work. Since then, several new treatments have been developed which enable the body to lower its glucose levels without the need for insulin.

    World Diabetes Day is celebrated on Dr Banting’s birthday (14 November) every year, in recognition of his contribution.


    The main objective of diabetic treatments is to maintain a balanced glucose level at all times.

    Treatments can vary depending on the type of diabetes and the symptoms of the individual, however, a complete lifestyle overhaul and adherence to a strict regimen of insulin/glucose regulating medication, food consumption and physical activity is usually required.

    Methods can include:

    • Insulin pumps – a device which provides a continuous source of insulin to the body and allows the wearer to adjust their dosage at the touch of a few buttons.
    • Insulin injections and tablets
    • Glucose management medicines
    • Insulin regulators

    Helpful links

    For more information on prediabetes and the risk factors associated with developing Type II diabetes, click here.

    If you are interested in fundraising for or raising awareness of diabetes and its associated conditions, you can visit the Diabetes UK website.