Diabetes 101: What is Diabetes?

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At some point, you may have wondered… what causes diabetes? It’s a very good question and the truth is that no one is really sure. The underlying cause of diabetes is still unknown, although we do know that both genetics and lifestyle play a significant part. If people in your family have diabetes, you have a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Lifestyle choices, such as diet and activity, are also factors. Someone who is overweight and sedentary is more likely to develop diabetes– although it’s important to realize that there are some people who have none of these factors and still develop type 2 diabetes, and others who have all the risk factors but never develop diabetes.

To understand how diabetes develops, it’s helpful to know how insulin functions in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its purpose is to move glucose into the cells where it can be used for energy. Glucose is the food for your body—it’s vital for your muscles, brain and other body functions. To learn more about this, take a few minutes to watch our video, “What is diabetes?”

Here’s how insulin works. When you eat, the food is converted into glucose. Glucose is then transported through the bloodstream to the cells. In response to this higher blood sugar level, insulin is secreted into the blood by the pancreas where it circulates and “unlocks” the cells so the glucose can enter. As the glucose enters the cells, the blood sugar levels drop. Insulin is released in small amounts all of the time, but greater amounts are produced after a meal to help the glucose move into the cells.

Insulin resistance is the most common cause of type 2 diabetes, and means that your body is making enough insulin but cannot use it properly. Glucose builds up in the blood and causes high levels of blood sugar. This makes your body produce more insulin to try to lower your blood sugar, but it still cannot be used properly and your glucose stays high. The cycle continues until eventually the cells that makes insulin in your pancreas just wear out and stop being able to produce the insulin that your body needs.

There is no cure for diabetes at this time, but type 2 diabetes can be controlled by managing blood sugar levels to avoid the future complications like vision problems, heart disease or kidney disease. Our website, Diabetes What To Know, is a valuable tool for education and support for anyone with type 2 diabetes and the Mayo Clinic is another excellent source of information.