Type 1 Diabetes

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Type 2 Diabetes: Learn the Warning Signs

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects blood sugar regulation. A person's immune system makes antibodies that destroy the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, blood sugar increases and cannot be delivered to the muscles and brain where it is needed. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to a number of complications such as kidney, nerve, and eye damage, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, cells are not receiving the glucose necessary for energy and normal function. As mentioned, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means there is no cure for type 1 diabetes - yet. Because people with type 1 diabetes can no longer produce their own insulin, they must inject doses of insulin. They must match the amount of insulin they inject with their diet. Keeping blood sugar in a normal, healthy range (what doctors call "good glycemic control") is the key to preventing long-term complications.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The major process that happens in type 1 diabetes is that the pancreas can no longer produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more a result of insulin resistance (cells not being able to use insulin effectively or at all), that is, it takes a large amount of insulin to move glucose out of the blood and into the cells. Over time, people with type 2 diabetes also may experience decreased insulin production in the pancreas. In type 1 diabetes, over time, the body can also develop insulin resistance; especially in people who gain a lot of weight while using insulin. This means there is some overlap in treatment and diet for people who have had diabetes of either type for a long time.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the auto-immune destruction of the pancreatic beta-cells which produce insulin. It isn't known why the auto-immune destruction happens. However, there are some known triggers. Genetics, including family history and the prenatal environment of the mother, can put someone at risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Exposures to chemicals, especially ones called endocrine disruptors found in plastics are known triggers1. Viral infections also can trigger the auto-immune process. Most of the time, the underlying cause isn't known.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/1/2015

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