Diabetes – The Inside Story

-By Hussain Asif, NUST Science Blog

Dear readers, my purpose today is to educate you about an ailment. I’d like to share this personal motto of mine as taught by my communication skills’ teacher: “Why kill someone with poison when sugar will do the job eventually as well”. Alright! I admit, it wasn’t my communication skills’ teacher; I picked this up from some novel (Imran series :p). I suppose almost all of you would have heard the name, and probably your grandma has it. If you’re following NUST Science Blog’s Online Campaign, Then you’ll know the basics briefed in the article “Diabetes Whereabouts” by NUST Science Blog posted earlier on iRnustian. I will attempt to give you an idea of how stuff normally happens in body and what exactly goes wrong in diabetes (Excluding the brand that runs in one’s family); as always one can’t tell what’s abnormal if he doesn’t know what’s normal.

 People, let’s talk about Diabetes – the one ailment which is like pop music, since it’s getting ever more popular in teens, so that next time your doctor tells you to use less sugar, you might just understand why he is saying that!

Normally…

All systems need energy to run, the human system uses energy as well, therefore it needs to have a battery, a storage device, so that supplies can be summoned when needed.  Now, there is this three tier system in body:

  1. The market (blood)
  2. The bank (liver)
  3. Fort Knox or the central depository

The Market: There are plenty of currencies which body uses but glucose is like dollar or gold; everyone accepts it, everyone buys it and everyone trusts it. So glucose circulates in the blood, whoever needs it takes it from there. Whenever the level of glucose varies from a certain standard range, the bank jumps in.

The Bank: What the bank does is that it has a small depository of its own in form of a compound called glycogen. In normal life when you eat, excessive glucose is converted into glycogen and sent to the bank. In periods in between meals, this bank eventually releases glucose so that you can go on. Depending upon person to person variation of eating habits and lifestyle, this bank can take care of your needs for up to 18 hours without food.

Fort Knox: The central depository consists of, but is not limited to, fat which is stored mainly under our skin. Just like the bank, this central depository does the same thing, the only difference is that it doesn’t turn on and off that quickly (yes, that’s the reason it takes time to lose fat!)

Now let’s look at what is more important and relevant here, the regulation system of this currency or glucose flow between depositories and market. Majority of regulatory systems in our body follow a negative feedback loop layout (it’s an automatic sensory configuration in which if a factor crosses normal limits, it turns on mechanisms to counter-act its own effect). Same is the case here.

There are two signaling molecules in our body; insulin and glucagon. They are like yin and yang, both are necessary and both balance each other. Whenever you have more glucose, insulin comes in and activates certain mechanisms which lead to lowering of glucose levels. These mechanisms include storing it in liver and fat tissue, as well as telling cells to take it up to fulfill their needs. It’s like workers have their wages and banks are full. Now, glucagon does the opposite; whenever your body starts getting short of glucose, glucagon pushes back insulin and tells the bank to release glucose so that workers can go on.

Some of you might be thinking, “Wait, if glucagon is the thing we apparently need when short of energy, then why are diabetic patients given insulin when they experience low energy levels?”

Diabetically…

The absence of sugar is not what leads to low energy levels, it’s the defective insulin system – they are unable to stack energy and to utilize it. Body cells are, let us say, dumb: It’s in their programming not to do anything until insulin comes and tells them to take in glucose, same goes for the bank and depository. It’s just like not taking the food even when you have it and later starving for it so all of it goes out through the only passage it finds! All the glucose is dumped into urine, which leads to polyuria (frequent urination) and a starved body.

It’s quite reasonable for one to think; “So what?! There are other energy sources for body. And what’s wrong with glucose in your blood! For all we know it might just make your blood sweeter for a vampire or something”.

Consequently…

Things aren’t that simple, because there are reasons why our body maintains a certain level of glucose in blood.

For one, the effect of this large amount of glucose on our circulation system. Our heart and our pipelines (veins, arteries) most definitely don’t like this altered osmotic pressure and increased viscosity because the heart has to pump harder, pipelines have to take more strain and also because of this increased glucose pressure, the osmotic balance is thrown out of the window because this concentrated blood keeps on sucking water from everywhere causing an imbalance in whole body! Any clues to why diabetics are always thirsty?

To give you more substantial evidence of the power of this concentrated solution, try checking the frequency of vision abnormalities in diabetics (In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults of age 20 to 74). This constant pounding of concentrated blood causes lens of eye to swell and unless controlled in time, the consequences are severe. Other problems include depositions in blood vessels, simply leading to hardening of these flexible pipelines, and once again an increased strain on heart.

…but what I personally believe to be the worst of all problems caused by diabetes is the loss suffered by our immune system and our healing system. One of the most obvious reasons why the body doesn’t let glucose lose in our blood is that if this happens, our blood becomes a playground for all sorts of bacteria because of the rich nutrition. And then, no matter how hard the immune system tries, the infection in blood just can’t be controlled if you have diabetes. Another relevant consequence is delayed wound healing; for obvious reasons, the body can’t repair itself if your own blood is attracting problematic microbes and supporting them all the time. This might sound small, as it won’t kill you immediately. But what if you ever need a surgery!

Thankfully though, research statistics show that avoiding diabetes is pretty simple: don’t smoke, don’t drink, try to avoid excessive mental stress; and the king of all: EXERCISE! Twenty minutes a day, three days a week will pay off more than any worldly investment you can think of.

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