Ken’s Type-1 Diabetes Journey Part 3: What is Type-1 Diabetes?
There seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding what a healthy diet is. There is countless different diet styles heavily promoted with most being comparative polar opposites. This confusion is very unfortunate. The beauty of Type-1 diabetes, however, is that it can provide an open-loop measure of true dietary (and lifestyle) cause-and-effects. The term "open-loop" means that the metabolic system is missing an automatic control element thus requiring manual control. This allows the controller (the diabetic individual) a direct view of the effects of foods and lifestyle. This journey, as a Type-1 diabetic, has revealed the astonishingly deep-set and destructive dietary misconceptions our society has inflected itself with. Since the only difference between a Type-1 diabetic and a non-diabetic is the requirement of manual metabolic control, I believe this information is important for EVERYONE.
What is Type-1 diabetes? Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system regards the pancreas beta cells as foreign and annihilates them. Beta cells are arranged in clusters known as islets of Langerhans which reside in the pancreas. The beta cells produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose from the blood stream across cell walls to the mitochondria – your life's engine.
What is insulin, and why is it important? Everything you do requires energy. This energy is provided by biology's engine – the mitochondria. We have billions of them in our bodies. Every cell in our body has them, ranging from a few per cell to thousands depending on the cells particular function. These little engines – the mitochondria - provide the energy for everything we do, including carrying a heavy load, running, walking, breathing, beating your heart, blinking an eye , thinking a thought, dividing a cell – being alive. The mitochondria's fuel is a sugar called glucose. Our digestive system extracts glucose from the food we eat and puts it in the blood stream. Glucose is carried from the blood stream across the cell wall to the mitochondria by the hormone, insulin. The glucose burn-rate is proportional to the insulin level. Without insulin, the mitochondria are glucose starved and cannot produce energy. The blood-glucose level is a balance between glucose entering the blood stream, as it is extracted from food, and the uptake and burn-rate of the mitochondria. Elevated blood-sugar or hyperglycemia occurs when the mitochondria cannot burn glucose as quickly as it enters the blood stream. Low blood-sugar or hypoglycemia is when glucose is burned faster than it is supplied to the blood stream. Since we must have energy at all times, we must have a ready supply of glucose in the blood stream. However, too much or too little is detrimental. The level must be tightly regulated. This is accomplished by the pancreas beta cells sensing the blood-glucose level and producing a balancing level of insulin. This process is known as "closed-loop" control. It is a symphony of processes, each one dependent on the other to do its job. When all of these processes perform in perfect sync and function, you will feel euphorically alive on a level few people ever experience. A major "monkey wrench" in the system, which practically everyone suffers from, is insulin resistance. Stay tuned to a future blog post titled: "Part 6: Glycemic Index and Attention Span" where insulin resistance is discussed in more detail.
There are lots of misconceptions regardingType-1 diabetics, but here are my top two:
2) The term "diabetes" is generally characterized as a condition of chronic high blood-sugar or hyperglycemia. The correct characterization is: blood-sugar is manually controlled instead of automatic as in non-diabetics. A Type-1 diabetic can suffer chronic hyperglycemia, but, that is up to the individual. Otherwise, the TYPE-1 diabetic is just like anyone else. Since blood-sugar is manually controlled, diet and health does not dictate blood-sugar, however, it does have a monumental effect on the difficulty level of the control effort. Likewise, the non-diabetic suffers the exact same management difficulty, except, the control is automatic leaving the non-diabetic oblivious to the hardship being inflicted on their metabolic organs. As a result, cause-and-effect is not obvious, making connections to what is beneficial and detrimental very obscure. Simply put; the non-diabetic doesn't see it coming. Yes, Type-1 diabetics are also subject to being blindsided; however, their excuse is weaker as they have a direct, real-time measure advantage.
1) A Type-1 diabetic is doomed to a restricted lifestyle with chronic, progressively debilitating medical conditions. My diagnosing physician explained to me that diabetic control is extremely important because even with the very best possible control, I will still suffer many diabetic failings. Unfortunately, this "prognosis" is a widely held belief. A Google search indicates just how prevalent this prognosis is. For example, here is a website that makes that direct statement: (Scroll down to the paragraph beginning with the word, "Tragically". I did not copy-and-paste the paragraph out of copyright respect.) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/13/5-reasons-why-diabetes-is-on-the-rise.aspx. This prognosis is partly due to the belief that the normal function of a pancreas cannot be exactly duplicated. It is true that it cannot be exactly duplicated, but "exact" duplication is not necessarily required. In fact, manual control actually has some advantages. Likewise, it is also true that prosthetic limbs cannot "exactly" duplicate a real limb, but that certainly hasn't slowed down Amy Purdy, Aimee Mullins, Natalie du Toit or Oscar Pistorius! Instead, their efforts to overcome their loss resulted in an even higher level of performance. In fact, Oscar Pistorius had to file a law suit in order to compete with able-bodied athletes as it was deemed that - with both legs amputated - he had an unfair advantage! Indeed, with persistence and dedication, a Type-1 diabetic can likewise prevail – even excel.
Please stay tuned for Part 4: My Story,