Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease: the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells, the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing, storing and secreting the hormone insulin. Insulin transfers the glucose from the bloodstream into other cells, to be used for energy or stored as fat. Lack of insulin results in glucose accumulating in the bloodstream, which causes blood sugar levels to become too high. Type 1 Diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes because in most cases sufferers need to inject themselves with additional insulin in order to keep their blood sugar levels balanced.
Type 1 Diabetes is characterised by symptoms such as blurred vision, excessive thirst, needing to urinate more often, feeling tired and lethargic and unexplained weight loss. It is much rarer than Type 2 Diabetes, affecting around 15% of all diabetes sufferers. Type 1 Diabetes usually develops in children and teenagers, which is why it is also referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes, but it can develop any age. It is not entirely clear exactly what causes Type 1 Diabetes, though scientists agree that genetics play an important role. Only people with a specific HLA (human leukocyte antigen) complex, found in Chromosome 6, are able to develop the disease. Antigens are responsible for triggering specific responses from the immune system.
When a virus invades the body, the immune system produces antibodies to fight the viral infection. If the virus happens to have similar antigens to the beta cells, the body will attack and destroy those cells and Type 1 Diabetes will develop. Viruses with similar antigens to the beta cells include the B4 strain of the Coxsackie B virus, German measles, Mumps and Rotavirus. There is no known cure for Type 1 Diabetes, but the condition can be managed with insulin injections, in addition to a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and careful monitoring of blood sugar levels.
In contrast, Type 2 Diabetes is not an autoimmune disease. We could argue that it is a lifestyle disease, due to the fact in most cases it is linked to poor diet choices, lack of exercise, and obesity. A diet high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars, cause the beta cells to produce large amounts of insulin to soak up the excess glucose in the bloodstream. Over time, the body becomes less responsive to the insulin it produces. This is known as insulin resistance, the precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes symptoms are similar to those associated with Type 1 Diabetes, however, one of the most striking differences between the two types is the fact Type 2 Diabetes can be managed without resorting to medication. Evidence published in the Reversing Diabetes World Summit in 2014 suggests the condition can be reversed with a low carbohydrate diet and exercise.
Diabetes rates in the UK have rapidly increased in recent years, with the biggest rise seen in diagnoses of Type 2 Diabetes. The good news is that Type 2 Diabetes is in most cases both preventable and reversible without medication. Whereas Type 1 diabetics need to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and inject artificial insulin, Type 2 diabetics can manage their blood sugar levels and reverse their condition by swapping to a diet high in vegetables and low carbohydrate foods and taking regular exercise.