Diabetes 101 questions. . .

So, I understand that there’s a type you can be born with even though it doesn’t really show up until later in life?

But, there’s a type you can “develop” right? This mainly seems to be caused by poor diet and exercise habits. Is this correct?

So, if you start eating right and exercising, can you get rid of this type?

Also, once you develop this second type, is it basically indistinguishable from the first type?

Are these called Type I and Type II, respectively?

No, and yes. There is no “latent” diabetes that you’re born with, but don’t have symptoms until later on. At best, that is what some people experience because Type II diabetes starts silently and is due to poor exercise, a diet high in sugars and simple starches, and/or obesity.

No, not really. Insulin acts as a key that opens a door in your cells to allow blood sugar to enter. Any given cell has many doors, but if it is flooded with sugar, it will block those doors from opening. Exercise will help unblock some of those doors, but it won’t unblock all of them. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, but it may never go away. Eating right and exercising is a very good at preventing Type II to begin with.

There are a few important differences. Type I diabetes is a condition where the pancreas does not produce insulin, so diabetics have to inject insulin or operate an implanted pump to raise their insulin levels to match the amount of sugar present in their blood. Type II diabetics often don’t need insulin because the problem is not with their pancreas. They are treated with drugs such as Glucophage if they are symptomatic, but sometimes weight loss in obese patients is often enough to bring their blood sugar under control. Other Type II diabetics may need to take insulin as well, as their pancreas has been affected by too-high blood sugar levels.


One of the current theories about the cause of Type I (Insulin-Dependent, or Juvenile) Diabetes is that sufferers are predisposed to catching a virus which attaches itself to the outlet ports on the surface of the pancreas; these ports generate insulin. The body’s immune system generates antibodies which fight off this virus and, just to make sure, also kills off the ports (d’oh!). The antibodies remain in the bloodstream so that even if the ports heal, they just get killed off again. Some type II (non-insulin dependent) patients may have this happen, but enough ports stay functioning to generate some insulin.

There is a treatment being studied which involves transplanting insulin-creating ports from a healthy person to the surface of the pancreas, along with some bone marrow from the healthy person, so that the transplanted bone marrow sends the message to the immune system that these ports are okay and don’t need to be killed off. The patient needs to take immune-suppressing drugs for the operation to take hold, it only lasts for a couple years, and there is the possibility of an immune-system turf war taking place within the patient’s body.

Not for me, thanks.

The general roadmap for diabetes is that people acquire Type I diabetes before they’re 20 or type II (non-insulin dependent, or adult-onset) after they’re 50. In both cases, the patient will usually have been fairly overweight for most of his or her life (with the understanding that for the Type I patient, that’s 10 years, and for the type II patient, that’s 25-30 years).

I acquired Type II diabetes when I was 33, and I had been maybe 10 pounds overweight for about five years. This really annoyed my doctor. I then shifted to Type I about two years later when the diet/exercise thing stopped working for me.

Diabetes runs in my family. Both my brother and my sister wound up with it in their 20’s. I do not have it myself, although my doctor has described my blood sugar level as “borderline”. He gave me several suggestions to keep it under control, including:

  1. Daily exercise. Whereas most people can get away with half an hour three or four times a week, he suggested I exercise *every day * for at least half an hour, closer to an hour if possible.
  2. Graze. Rather than eating three large meals a day, eat smaller meals and spread them out. Snack more often. Large meals tend to overload the blood sugar controlling abilities of the pancreas.
  3. And of course, eat healthy, stay away from starchy and sugary foods as much as possible.

My wife also has me taking daily magnesium supplements. She read somewhere where some diabetes symptoms are related to a magnesium deficiency.