What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a medical condition that occurs when the body is unable to regulate the sugar concentration in the blood; the concentration is regulated by insulin which is triggered by b-cells when there is an increase in blood glucose.
When patients suffer from diabetes, their b-cells are dysfunctional or are just not producing enough insulin. Diabetes is the number six leading cause of death in the US alone. It is linked to several medical conditions and increases the risk for diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, amputations, blindness and more.
Types of diabetes
1. Type 1 Diabetes is the result of a person’s immune system fighting and destroying the b-cells, it usually begins in the early stages of life and accounts for 10% of the total cases of diabetes. People with this type have to take insulin shots daily in order to survive.
2. Type 2 Diabetes results from b-cell performance decline and an increase in insulin resistance; this type is linked with genetic factors and obesity, hence this type can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.
3. There is another type of diabetes that affects pregnant women, it is called Gestational Diabetes where the hormones released by the placenta to sustain the pregnancy, make the pregnant woman’s cells more resistant to insulin. Once the pancreas is unable to overcome the resistance, the patient develops diabetes.
What causes diabetes?
It is not known exactly why the body immune system fights the b-cells and it causes Type 1 diabetes. It´s assumed that this could have been caused by genetic vulnerability and certain environmental factors but there is no absolute clear reason why this happens.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells resist insulin action and the insulin produced is not enough to overcome this resistance, the reason behind this resistance is also unknown but it is strongly assumed that obesity is directly linked to this type of diabetes.
Risk factors for diabetes Type 1
There are certain factors that may increase the risk of diabetes:
1. Family history
If you have a close family member who has Type 1 diabetes, then your risk of getting Type 1 diabetes is higher.
2. Environmental factors
Situations like being exposed to a viral disease cause a certain impact on Type 1 diabetes occurrence.
3. Presence of auto-antibodies
If you have auto-antibodies, then your risk of getting Type 1 diabetes increases, but this does not necessarily mean that anyone with these auto-antibodies actually gets to develop diabetes.
4. Diet and Nutrition
Factors like low vitamin intake, early exposure to cereals and dairy products before the age of 4 months is suspected (but yet to be proven) to increase risks.
Your cells become more resistant to insulin as the amount of fatty tissue increases.
The more inactive you are, the higher the risk of Type 2 diabetes; being active uses up some of the glucose, reduces your weight and hence cells become more sensitive to insulin.
The older you are, the higher the risk of Type 1 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes risks
A woman who develops gestational diabetes has a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The risk factors for gestational diabetes include:
Older women are more likely to get gestational diabetes.
2. Family/personal history
If you have a family member with diabetes, you are more likely to get gestational diabetes and if you have had gestational diabetes in your previous pregnancy, gave birth to a large baby or had a stillbirth, you are at higher risk.
Being obese prior to the pregnancy increases your risk.
Symptoms of diabetes
The symptoms vary depending on sugar concentration; sometimes people with Type 2 diabetes may initially have no symptoms while those with Type 1 diabetes experience symptoms more quickly and more severely.
Some of the typical signs and symptoms of diabetes include:
• Patient urinates frequently
• Patient gets really hungry
• Patient gets thirst too quickly
• Losing a lot of weight
• The urine has ketones
• Patient gets tired really fast
• Patient is very irritable
• Patient cannot see clearly
• Sores heal slowly
• Patient gets too many infections e.g. vaginal infections
Diagnosis of diabetes
The diagnosis of diabetes involves testing the concentration of sugar in the blood which can be done by using a variety of tests like the glycated hemoglobin test, random blood test, fasting blood sugar test, and oral glucose tolerance test. Urine can also be tested for the presence of ketones to check if the patient has auto-antibodies.
Diabetes stem cell treatment
Over the years, there have been attempts to cure diabetes by using methods like replacing b-cells through transplants, by increasing b-cell replication, by reducing the death of b-cells and by deriving new b-cells from other cells.
In the early 90’s, Washington University Medical Center reported the success of the first transplant of the pancreatic islet tissue from a donor in a person ailing from Type 1 diabetes. By the end of the twentieth century, many other transplants using different processes had been reported but there were challenges like the lack of appropriate donor tissue and use of immune-suppressive drugs to prevent rejection of the transplant.
With these challenges, the exploration of stem cells as a viable treatment became more intense.
Theoretically, stem cells can be used to treat Type 1 diabetes by inducing them to be b-cells in the lab, and then introducing them to the body where they would repair the damaged tissue and help maintain enough b-cell mass.
This therapy would be beneficial; however destructive cells would still be present to fight the new cells. In theory, the same therapy can be used to treat patients with Type 2 diabetes by replacing the failing b-cells.
At this point, diabetes stem cell treatment alleviates the conditions and symptoms for patients, improving their overall quality of life, though it is not yet considered a complete cure to this disease.
Results achieved with stem cell therapy
• Significant decrease in fasting blood sugars and the level of Hemoglobin A1C
• Significant decrease in Triglyceride levels
• Measurable improvement in kidney function with a decrease in creatinine levels
Additional benefits include:
1. An improved capacity for physical activities
2. An increased feeling of vitality with improved energy levels
3. A reduced risk of complications
4. Loss of neuropathy (numbness)
5. Loss of pruritus (itchy skin)
6. Loss of Nocturia (having to wake up from sleep to urinate)
7. An increased libido