Diabetes is a group of metabolic disorders related to insulin, which the body uses to break sugars down into usable form. Diabetic populations have blood sugar levels that are too high, which causes a variety of health problems, such as:
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage
- Eye damage
- Skin and mouth conditions
- Pregnancy complications
While the risks of diabetes are similar regardless of the type, the causes of each type are different. There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Collectively, it’s estimated that 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes. This is about one out of every 11 people. However, it’s also estimated that one out of every four diabetics are unaware that they have diabetes. Each type of diabetes tends to affect slightly different populations.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed during childhood or adolescence.
People with type 1 diabetes are either unable to produce insulin or produce only a small amount of it. Approximately 10% of the diabetic population has type 1 diabetes. One of the unique aspects of this particular part of the diabetic population is that 15% of type 1 diabetics are children. It can strike at any age, but nearly all cases are diagnosed by age 40. According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Although type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, it appears at two noticeable peaks. The first peak occurs in children between 4 and 7 years old, and the second is in children between 10 and 14 years old.”
One study has found that the incidence of type 1 diabetes in young people is increasing. Five clinical centers located in California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington took part in the study, which included more than 20,000 participants. It was found that from 2001 to 2009, there was a 23% increase in type 1 diabetes prevalence among people under age 20, as well as a 2.7% increase in the rate of new diagnoses.
Additionally, type 1 diabetes may be influenced by geography, since the incidence of the disease increases along with distance from the equator. In fact, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in Finland and Sardinia is 400 times that of Venezuela.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes was once called adult-onset diabetes.
This type of diabetes can have two different underlying causes. Either the body no longer produces enough insulin, or it resists insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common among adults than children, but an increasing number of children are being affected. Unless carefully controlled by diet, exercise, and medication, it is typically a progressive disease, meaning that it worsens with age.
Many people in the type 2 diabetic population share some similar risk factors. For example, overweight and obese people are much more prone to type 2 diabetes. The distribution of fat also impacts an individual’s risk. Those who store more fat in the abdomen are at higher risk, as opposed to those who store fat elsewhere, like the hips or thighs.
Inactivity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well. Those with a family history of diabetes or those of increasing age are also at higher risk. Additionally, certain races are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, such as those of Middle Eastern, African, South Asian, or American Indian descent.
A recent study has also found that lowered levels of testosterone in men is linked to an increased risk of insulin-resistant type 2 diabetes. Low testosterone levels are also linked to obesity. However, the study found that mice with lowered testosterone experienced insulin resistance regardless of body weight, although the effects of the low testosterone were more pronounced in obese mice. This study, which was carried out at the University of Edinburgh, could explain why men are more prone to type 2 diabetes as they age, since testosterone levels lower with age.
Gestational diabetes affects one very specific population: pregnant women.
Sometimes women who already have rather high levels of glucose become unable to produce enough insulin during pregnancy. This results in gestational diabetes. Not all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, and the majority who do are able to control it with diet and exercise. Only about 10-20% of women with gestational diabetes have to take medication to control their blood sugar levels.
Women with a family history of diabetes or with excess weight are at higher risk for gestational diabetes. Additionally, women of American Indian, Hispanic, or Asian descent are more at risk. Having gestational diabetes increases the likelihood that a woman will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
Living with diabetes
There are key lifestyle changes that can allow you to stay healthy with diabetes, including:
Type 1 diabetes requires extremely close monitoring of food, activity levels, and blood sugar. Injected insulin is also a necessity for people with type 1 diabetes. A recent study revealed some trends among the type 1 diabetic population.
Among type 1 diabetics under age 15, there was no statistical difference between boys and girls as far as effective blood sugar control. In those ages 15-29, women were 8% more likely to have poorly controlled blood sugar. Among type 1 diabetics aged 30 and above, women were 6% more likely to have poorly controlled blood sugar. This means that in this particular diabetic population, men are better at controlling their blood sugar than women.
Another study has found an interesting trend in the type 2 diabetic population. The medication metformin is often the first line of defense for type 2 diabetics. It was found by researchers that African Americans respond significantly better to metformin than whites do, since the average blood sugar levels after taking metformin for several months was more reduced in African Americans than in whites. One of the study’s authors noted that African Americans are much more prone to diabetic complications, so finding that African Americans respond so well to metformin is encouraging.
Are you part of the diabetic population?
Image by Espen Sundve via Flickr