What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, also known as Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) and Juvenile Diabetes, is a condition where the immune system inadvertently attacks and destroys the cells responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas – the pancreatic beta cells.
It is what is known as an autoimmune disorder, which is the term used to describe diseases where the body attacks itself.
Because the insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed, this results in an almost complete lack of insulin. Insulin is an important hormone as it is responsible for bringing glucose (blood sugar) into the cell, to be used as energy. When there is a lack of insulin, you are unable to use glucose as it is cannot get into the cells. It builds up in the blood and causes hyperglycemia.
After a while, the cells deplete their energy reserves and since they are now unable to use glucose for energy, they start to burn fat to use as fuel instead.
This is why people with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes are often very underweight – because the body is burning fat in overdrive!
On first impressions, this may sound good to some of you who would like to lose a few pounds.
Some people with IDDM deliberately refuse to take their insulin injections in order to lose weight, however this is certainly not a good idea! When the body burns fat it produces a lot of waste products, called keytones, which can rapidly build up in the blood of a type 1 diabetic who is not taking insulin.
Keytones can be extremely harmful and can lead to a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
This is a dangerous medical emergency, symptoms of which can include vomiting, dehydration, deep gasping breathing, confusion and sometimes coma.
In an attempt to get rid of the excess keytones, they are excreted by the lungs, which makes the diabetic’s breath smell like alcohol.
This is an important sign to remember, because if you can ever smell keytones on your breath, it means: 1) that your blood sugar is extremely high and 2) You may be dangerously close to DKA.
Type 1 diabetes is commonly referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, because the majority of cases are diagnosed in childhood between the ages of 2 and 10 years of age.
As you are born with the disease, very few make it into their teens before they begin to display symptoms.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes – also known as adult-onset diabetes – is extremely unusual in children.
Most cases of type 2 diabetes are diagnosed much later in life.
Preventive Measures of Type 1 Diabetes
Unfortunately, at the moment there are no clinically proven cures or preventive measures for type 1 diabetes.
As a parent, there is little you can do at this point in time to stop your child from developing it. However, there are some things that you can do to reduce the chances that your child will develop the disease.
Many studies have shown that a signifigant percentage of children who develop type 1 diabetes are fed with cow’s milk as an infant.
This certainly does not mean that cows milk causes type 1 diabetes, but rather that cutting cows milk out of your childs diet may lower their risk of acquiring the disease.
Most doctors will therefore recommend that a mother breastfeed a child whose parents or siblings have been diagnosed with diabetes in the past.
Other research suggests that mothers who have high blood glucose while pregnant give birth to more diabetic children, so regularly checking your blood glucose when you are pregnant is definately a good idea.
In most countries, your doctor will closely monitor your blood glucose throughout the pregnancy to ensure no problems arise.
The best advice to pregnant mothers is to ensure you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to ensure that your blood sugar remains in check.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, eating less sugar does not decrease the risk of acquiring the disease.