Diabetes, What Is It?

Diabetes is a chronic disease than can lead to serious complications if left unchecked.  These complications such as eye problems and kidney disease can happen as a result of many factors, the most obvious being high blood sugars.  What modern science is now beginning to uncover is the other mechanisms by which diabetes can cause damage to the body, and more importantly how to treat this.

When we think about inflammatory diseases, what comes to mind first could be arthritis or other conditions like that.  Diabetes has never been known as an inflammatory condition until recently.  A protein has been found that may be one of the culprits in the inflammation that occurs in patients with type 2 diabetes.   Scientists have named this new protein FOX01, and it will be the subject of many future studies.

The notion that inflammation may be the cause of diabetes and not the result of diabetes has gotten a lot of scientific attention lately.  What prompted studies that looked at inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes was the fact that blood vessel damage and even kidney damage in patients with diabetes were marked by inflammation, as seen under a microscope.   A “normal” inflammatory response in the body is a protective reaction to infection or injury.  Blood vessels bring more blood and heat to the area as well as antibodies to help fight off the invading substance. As we all know when we get a cut or bruise, redness, swelling, heat and pain are all involved in the inflammatory process, and ultimately the healing process.

Short-term inflammation helps protect the body; it is when inflammation becomes chronic and immune cells are out of control when actual damage can occur.  It doesn’t really matter if the inflammation causes the diabetes or vise-versa at this point; what is important is that we understand that this inflammatory process can cause us harm, and we need to be able to diagnose and treat it effectively to minimize complications.

There is now an important blood marker for chronic inflammation that I suspect will be used more frequently as an indictor that inflammation is going on “inside” the body.  This blood marker is called C-reactive protein.  In just one study done when C-reactive protein (CRP) was measured, patients with a higher level of CRP had a much higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack.  Some researchers postulate that inflammation promotes the build up of plaque on blood vessels.

So now that we know type 2 diabetes (and possibly type 1) is an inflammatory condition; how do we treat it differently?  The obvious strategies that we have been using for diabetes management still apply.  To fight inflammation we need to exercise, stop smoking, lose weight if necessary and eat a healthy diet.  We knew we needed to follow a healthy lifestyle plan before, but now the reasons for doing so are even more compelling.

There are new drug strategies that are being studied for diabetes treatment that target inflammation.  One such drug is salsalate that has been used in the past for arthritic conditions, and has recently been found to help with diabetes control.  Other anti-inflammatory agents are sure to follow, as we begin to uncover the cause and effect of what happens in patients with diabetes.  The more we learn, the more we can uncover the most effective way to stay healthy living with diabetes.

You may also start to hear about an anti-inflammatory diet plan which incorporates low carbohydrate, high fiber and lots of lean protein.  Drugs that we already use routinely such as statins for cholesterol are known for their anti-inflammatory properties in addition to their ability to bring down LDL.  This is why your doctor may prescribe a statin for you even when your cholesterol may appear within normal limits.

Remember that knowledge is power, and with all that power we will stay healthy and strong!!!

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