Imagine for a moment what it must feel like for a parent to learn his or her child’s Healthy Body is not capable of functioning correctly. Terror, shock, powerless and probably even a little bit of blame might be part of the first wave of emotions experienced. Maybe you know someone whose child has Type 1 (formerly “juvenile”) Diabetes (“T1D”), which is quite different from Type II (formerly “adult onset”) Diabetes.
Considered an autoimmune disease, approximately 1 million Canadians suffer from T1D. Most often diagnosed in youth, T1D is not lifestyle related. The disease occurs when one’s ability to produce insulin is compromised. Scientists believe this occurs when the Healthy Body’s own immune system (mistakenly) attacks one’s own islet cells, the cells in our Healthy Body that produce insulin. This often occurs before adolescence.
Insulin and Why our Bodies Need it
Insulin is the hormone responsible for extracting energy from the foods we eat. Specifically, people suffering from T1D are unable to produce insulin in response to food intake. Foods containing carbohydrates result in rising sugar levels in the bloodstream. Insulin is required to facilitate the conversion of blood sugar into energy. Without the presence of insulin in the Healthy Body, sugar from the bloodstream cannot be properly utilized by the Healthy Body. How important is insulin? Well, have you ever tried to exercise without having eaten something and felt faint, as though you were about to pass out? Without insulin, energy would not be available to our bodies even if we do eat.
We take this for granted. Balancing food (carbohydrate) intake with properly levels of insulin happens automatically in our bodies. I’m sure most of us have never thought about it. For people with T1D, this balancing act is a constant burden, which consists of continually managing food intake, blood sugar measurement (finger poking and testing 4-6 times per day) and insulin injections. All this to achieve what most of us take for granted – normal blood sugar levels. That is, not too high and not too low. It’s like trying to drive on a winding road, but only being allowed to see out the window and manoever the steering wheel 4-6 times during the trip.
The problem with major fluctuations in blood sugar levels is that complications may arise. On a day-to-day basis, a slight overdose of insulin (or corresponding under-consumption of carbohydrates) may lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Hypoglycemia is an emergency situation. Symptoms range from light-headedness, shakiness, confusion, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and even seizures. This is a particular concern for young children.
On the other hand, over the longer term, the impact of high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) may lead to complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, poor circulation, blindness, and a host of other potential issues.
What Can You Do to Help?
If you know someone with T1D, you may be wondering what you can do to help. Well, I am here to tell you there are ways you can contribute.
Please consider making a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Canada (JDRF). JDRF’s is a focused organization who’s clear mission is to fund research to find a cure for T1D and improve treatment options and outcomes for T1D sufferers. Much of the research that is funded by JDRF is already in the clinical trial stages. Their website can tell you more than I can in a blog, but your money would help fund research to help find a cure, for improved treatments and creating awareness about this incredibly elusive and dangerous disease.
In addition, JDRF Canada’s website can link you to several fund-raising events going on around the country. It’s easy and fun to get involved in your local Rides, Walks, and Galas.
As a result of the great work that has been funded by JDRF in its over thirty-year history, we are closer than ever to a cure. Beginning with the discover of insulin, Canada continues to be a leader on the world stage in T1D research. Already, we have developed therapies and technologies that have greatly improved the lives of people with T1D. We will find a cure in our lifetime.
Until next time,
Peace, love and vitamin C!