Your body's primary source of energy is sugar. Sugar comes from breaking down carbohydrate foods. These foods include fruits, milk, yogurt, sweets, rice, pasta, beans, and starchy vegetables such as corn, potatoes, and green peas. The body uses this energy to fuel your brain and allow you to think, to make your heart beat, to move your muscles and keep your organs working, among other things.
The following diagram shows how your body uses sugar for energy when it is working properly (without diabetes):
Carbohydrates from the food you eat is broken down into sugar through the digestive process and released into your blood. The blood acts as your body’s transport system and carries sugar to all the cells of your body. In order for sugar to move into the cells, insulin must be present. Insulin is a hormone produced in your pancreas that helps carry sugar into the cells. You can think of insulin like the key to the door of the cell. Insulin unlocks the door to the cell, allowing sugar to move in and provide energy.
Diabetes is a condition when your body can no longer keep a healthy balance of sugar in the blood and insulin output from the pancreas. Normally, the body gets the energy it needs from the glucose (blood sugar). Having diabetes means the pancreas has trouble keeping up with the body’s need for insulin. The liver also plays a part by storing and making glucose (sugar), but diabetes can cause the liver to produce too much glucose. The cells become resistant and don’t allow the glucose in. As a result, the sugar builds up in the blood.
There are several types of diabetes, including:
Type 1 Diabetes (formerly known as Juvenile Diabetes)
Type 2 Diabetes (formerly known as Adult-Onset Diabetes)
Gestational Diabetes (Diabetes brought on by pregnancy)
People who are overweight plus have one or more of the risk factors below are considered to be at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes:
- Physically inactive
- History of impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance test
- Family history of diabetes
- Asian American, African American, Hispanic American, or Native American
- History of gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing over 9 pounds
- Elevated blood pressure
- HDL cholesterol level (the “good” cholesterol) of 35 mg/dl or lower and/or a triglyceride level of 250 mg/dl or higher
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Vascular (heart) disease
Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless. Recent studies, including those done at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center, indicate that early detection of diabetes symptoms — and, therefore, early treatment — can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.
The most common diabetes symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Increased fatigue
- Blurry vision
If you have one or more of the above diabetes symptoms, see your doctor right away.Last revised October 2009, Adult Diabetes Education Program