What is Type 1 Diabetes? What Does it mean to me? What is it like to live with?
November is Diabetes awareness month, and Tuesday 14th was World Diabetes Day. I sent an email out to my colleagues, to try and attempt to raise some understanding and awareness. This is because on Saturday I went to a fantastic event, with Type 1 Diabetics from all across the world, and asked my colleagues if they could source some sugar products for me to take along as hypo treatments (I work for a confectionery company). I received so many questions about why I wanted to take sugar to a diabetic conference, which made me realise, even the people I spend 40 hours a week+ with, don’t have a basic concept of my condition. And why should they I suppose? Although, it would be nice if they did… so I try to educate them, and information is always well received, many were interested and asked me questions following my email.
I’ve edited this email slightly for this blog, so that you might be able to share it with people close to you where there’s a lack of understanding, I wanted to help explain to non-Type 1s (or Type 0s as we sometimes call them). The condition is different for everyone, depending on personal and external factors. But here’s my story..
Let’s begin with the difference between my diabetes, Type 1, and the diabetes commonly misrepresented in the Daily Mail, Type 2. I will keep the comments on Type 2 brief, as I am by no means an expert on this completely different condition, and there are many different types, causes and severity of type 2 itself. Below, I try to answer some of the misconceptions I have faced, even by my closest friends and family
So what is “diabetes”? Did you eat too much sugar as a kid?
Type 1 Diabetes makes up about 5% – 10% of cases of Diabetes in the UK. It is a genetic autoimmune condition, not caused by lifestyle or eating too much sugar. A virus or stress triggers antibodies to go into overdrive and kill the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. It is treated by multiple daily injections of insulin, and cannot be cured or reversed. It is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults 0-30, which is why is used to be referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, but can be develop at any age, just take a look at our Prime Minister, and I myself was diagnosed at 29. The diagnoses can be made from a blood test, which measured the quantities of these antibodies in your blood (see link 1 below), a normal person would have 0, a type 1 would show hundreds or thousands.
Type 2 is still genetic, but is commonly triggered by lifestyle or age factors. The body still produces some insulin, but the body is unable to absorb it, known as insulin resistance. I will link some sites below to explain in more detail if you’re interested (see link 2).
So can it be cured? I read in the Daily Mail that it can be reversed?
Some cases of Type 2 can be reversed with a low-carb lifestyle, but that would have to be maintained. Type 2s should avoid a high-carb diet and commonly take metformin to help with insulin absorbtion. Some more severe cases of Type 2 require insulin therapy.
Type 1 currently has no cure and cannot be reversed, no not even by camel’s milk or cinnamon! We have to inject a long acting base insulin every day to combat the glucose released by the liver (the quantities vary from person to person, and getting them right is trial and error), and we have to inject insulin for every gram of carbohydrate we eat (eg I inject 1 unit for every 12g carbs), and that includes everything from carrots, to rice, to cake. Everyone’s insulin to carb ratio is different, and can alter throughout the day, as blood sugar is also affected by: exercise, weather/temperature, stress, illness, hormones, GI values of carbs, and more. Type 1s need to check their blood sugars 6+ times per day to get their doses right, to stay healthy and stay alive. There’s so many variables, that it is more an art than a science. We have to count and calculate our carbs every single time we eat, at every meal, every day of our lives, allowing for activity levels and all the variables listed above.
Getting your doses wrong can be fatal. Too much insulin causes hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar, which much be corrected immediately with fast acting glucose, ie Starburst. There’s a saying “Jelly Babies Save Lives”, and it’s true. For a type 1 glucose is an essential, lifesaving piece of our medical kit, that we have to be able to access at all times. Too little insulin and blood sugars run high, ending up in all sorts of complications that I won’t attempt to list. Every day, every meal, every activity is a balancing act. There’s no time off, no respite, we just need to plan everything with a little more focus!
There’s so much more to it than that, and I hope my blogs and some of the others that I will link at other times, will help spread awareness and understanding.
Thanks for reading!!