Diabetes…An American Epidemic

The number of diagnosed cases of diabetes being classified as type 2 has been rising over the past years in America. The average age of people with type 2 diabetes has been declining as well. But what are the repercussions of more and more people, especially young people, developing this disease?

Type 2 diabetes used to be classified as ‘adult onset’ meaning it presented itself later in life while type 1 diabetes was termed ‘childhood’ as it typically presented itself in childhood or early adulthood. But other than timing of diagnosis, what is the difference between the two types of this disease? In type 1 diabetes, the person’s body is failing to produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the person’s body has a lowered number of insulin receptors meaning while there is insulin in the blood, the body is not able to use it properly. When the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use it properly, glucose levels become unbalanced and the body’s metabolism is thrown out of whack.

As more and more children are being diagnosed with an inability to process insulin and therefore glucose, people are wondering what problems this will create later in life. Recent research has found possible links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s form of dementia. How can this be?

While we typically think of insulin as being a hormone which is in the periphery of the body, it is also found in the brain. In type 2 diabetes, the body is trying to use insulin which may lower insulin levels in the brain. Lowered insulin levels in the brain can disrupt other brain chemical levels which ultimately can lead to disorders of the brain such as Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder caused by depletion of neurons through plaque formation and fiber tangles. It is a disease which puts great pressure on the effected patients family as well as society in general because of the elevated cost for care.

Both these diseases have lifelong implications after diagnoses and can ultimately lead to death. So how can we prevent this inflated rate of diagnoses from continuing?

First, we need to address the issue of increased number of type 2 diabetes cases. Preventative measures for type 2 diabetes include managing weight, cholesterol and other health issues related with obesity. This needs to be done in people of all ages but especially children because overweight children have a higher risk of being diagnosed with diseases like type 2 diabetes at a younger age. People also need to try to be more active. Things as simple as taking a walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help manage weight. By managing these things, the number of cases of type 2 diabetes will hopefully start to go down, especially in children.

Because of a possible link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, lowering the rate of type 2 diabetes will hopefully help to manage the number of Alzheimer’s patients.