Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes.  Types one and two - usually written with Roman numerals: I and II. 

Type I diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes.  In Type I diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use sugar. Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is increasing rapidly worldwide. In Type II diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin (they are insulin resistant). Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use sugar. Sugar is the basic fuel for the cells in the body, and insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When sugar builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:

Type II diabetes is associated with obesity, particularly obesity caused by eating foods too rich in refined carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, cakes, biscuits and other foods which were not available to our Palaeolithic ancestors. Because these foods were not available over the history of human evolution, our bodies have not developed mechanisms for coping with them satisfactorily. Some people, however, do not become overweight or susceptible to Type II diabetes, even those who eat predominantly form the foods listed above. These people are generally from genetic stock whose ancestors have a history of settled agriculture (Europeans, Indians, Chinese). People with the highest susceptibility to Type II diabetes are generally from genetic stock whose ancestors have been hunter-gatherers until very recently (Inuit, American Indians, African Americans, Australian Aborigines, Maoris and Pacific Islanders). Being hunter-gatherers means they will have been physically well-adapted to the energetic activity of hunting and gathering and the type of foods associated with hunting and gathering: fish and animals, tubers and fruit. The lessons from the histories of these two types of peoples are relevant to everyone with a tendency to obesity.

Alzheimer's Disease as 'diabetes of the brain'

Whether as a metaphor or a scientific fact, this is a useful way of looking at Alzheimer's disease. Research under this model was reported on the BBC website on 3 February 2009. Extracts:

Alzheimer's 'is brain diabetes'
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/7866022.stm
Published: 2009/02/03 07:45:49 GMT

The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports insulin could protect against damage to brain cells key to memory.
The most common form of dementia may be closely related to another common disease of old-age - type II diabetes, say scientists. Treating Alzheimer's with the hormone insulin, or with drugs to boost its effect, may help patients, they claim. The relationship between insulin and brain disease has been under scrutiny since doctors found evidence that the hormone was active there.

The latest study looked at the effects of insulin on proteins called ADDLs, which build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and cause damage. They took neurons - brain cells - from the hippocampus, a part of the brain with a pivotal role in memory formation. These were treated with insulin and a drug called rosiglitazone, given to type II diabetics to increase the effect of the hormone on cells. After this, the cells were far less susceptible to damage when exposed to ADDLs, suggesting that insulin was capable of blocking their effects.

Professor William Klein, from Northwestern University, said "Sensitivity to insulin can decline with ageing, which presents a novel risk factor for Alzheimer's disease - our results demonstrate that bolstering insulin signalling can protect neurons from harm." His colleague, Professor Sergio Ferreira, said: "Recognising that Alzheimer's disease is a type of brain diabetes points the way to novel discoveries that may finally result in disease-modifying treatments for this devastating disease." A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Research Trust said "People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. It is well known that insulin affects how the brain works, and this research adds more evidence to the possibility that Alzheimer's could be a type of brain diabetes.

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Page updated 4 February 2009