Monday, April 14, 2014

1 Year of Type 1 Diabetes :: Part 4 :: What is Type 1 Diabetes? and Other Things You Can Learn From Highly Scientific Internet Memes

Our son, Aaron, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a year ago.   He and I have been working together on a few posts to share his story with you.  

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(Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 here)

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Part 4
What is Type 1 Diabetes?  And Other Things You Can Learn From Highly Scientific Internet Memes

What is type 1 diabetes?  I didn't know before Aaron was diagnosed.  If anything, I shared the most widely-held misconception that diabetes was something that was obviously caused by poor diet and lack of exercise and was controlled by healthy diet and increased activity.   Even though that's what I thought, it didn't entirely make sense since I knew that Aaron was active and that he had a balanced diet - mostly healthy food with occasional, portion-controlled treats and desserts.  When our pediatrician first indicated that Aaron's symptoms were pointing toward diabetes, I thought our son would never have another cupcake again and that our whole family would be starting up a new nutrition and exercise plan.  Wrong-o.  We quickly learned what it isn't and all that we would have to do to treat what it is.  

You can enter "what is type 1 diabetes" into any internet search engine and get all the information you're looking for.   But I'm going to give it to you in my own words based on our experience and information from the book The Everything Parent's Guide to Children With Juvenile Diabetes** (M. McCarthy) and it will obviously highlight the things that stand out to me, a parent caring for a young diabetic.  And maybe we can have a laugh along the way! 

**This is great resource book, but I've never understood why they reference "Juvenile" diabetes in the title, since that misnomer has been replaced with "Type 1" and they say as much in the book.  So????

hint: if it's lifelong and you won't grow out of it...
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy pancreas and destroys the beta cells which produce insulin.  

Our bodies break down the food we eat into its various components, one of which is carbohydrates.  The carbohydrates we eat are converted into glucose, a form of sugar that is consumed by our cells for energy.  Glucose, delivered by the blood stream,  is food for our cells.  Insulin is the "link" that facilitates the absorption of glucose into the cells.  Without insulin, glucose is not able to enter the cells and instead remains in the blood stream, causing high blood glucose levels, or hyperglycemia.  The cells will not be "fed" and the body goes into "starvation mode."  

***  yay!  we made a movie ***
"What Is Type 1 Diabetes"
by Aaron

(Aaron is so serious in the movie!  I kept encouraging him to smile and act friendly, but he kept telling me that he wanted everyone to understand how serious this is...  We're going to work on his presentation skills!  At least he didn't repeatedly yawn in this one like in an earlier one we tried!)

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are different illnesses.
Only about 5 percent of Americans with diabetes have type 1.   It  stands to reason that type 2 is more widely understood, and this can cause confusion and misunderstanding since the two types have some significant differences. 

A person with type 1 has an autoimmune disease and his body will never produce insulin again.  

this message brought to you by your formerly functioning pancreas
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease in which a person's body still produces insulin but has a difficult time using it properly, or it doesn't produce enough insulin.  A person with type 2 can potentially improve their health and/or blood glucose levels with diet and exercise.  A person with type 1 should obviously eat properly and exercise, but these will not change the "status" of his diabetes.

What causes type 1 diabetes?
Scientists (how's that for generic) believe that it is a combination of a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger (often a virus) that "sets off" the autoimmune response.  Type 1 diabetes is not caused by what a person eats or doesn't eat (sugar or anything else)  or by exercise levels.   It is not caused by drinking full-sugar pop (some of you may call it soda), and it is not a result of being born via c-section or not having been breastfed as an infant, or any other of the wacky things you may hear.  There is nothing a diabetic (or his parents) could have done differently to avoid the onset of type 1 diabetes.  

Is there a cure for type 1 diabetes?
Unequivocally, no.  There may be in the future, but now - no.  

The insulin-producing cells in the pancreas of a person with type 1 diabetes have been attacked and damaged beyond repair.  They will not "heal" or "regenerate" or "recover"  or mysteriously start producing insulin again.  (Except in the case of a miracle!!)  

Type 1  cannot be cured with an extreme diet - including whole foods, vegan foods, or carbohydrate free foods.  It cannot be cured with cinnamon.  

Those generic scientists I mentioned earlier... they are working on the development of an artificial pancreas which may some day make the lives of type 1 diabetics easier.  But there will be no cure until there is a way to induce the body to make its own insulin again.

But doesn't insulin cure the diabetes?
Insulin is not a cure.  It is a treatment.  However, it is not a medication.  In fact, it is a hormone that everyone needs for their body to function properly; people with type 1 get it by injection.  

Can a person with type 1 diabetes eat whatever they want?

And yes.

So, no, they can't eat whatever they want and expect to stay healthy any more than you or I.  Just as I can't eat anything I like whenever I want and hope to stay healthy, neither can a diabetic.

But also, yes.  They can eat whatever they want.  Unless there are other dietary factors in play, (for instance, some diabetics also develop celiac disease, another autoimmune disorder) a person with type 1 diabetes will generally not have any food restrictions.  

This is perhaps the most difficult concept to come to terms with or to convey to others.  It is not wrong or bad for my son, Aaron, to have a cupcake.  He may have a cupcake at a party without "breaking the rules" and without guilt just as I may have a cupcake at a party without worry or guilt.   His diabetes will not be better or worse for the cupcake.  After we both eat our cupcakes, I  won't even be thinking about the insulin my body is pumping out to usher glucose into my cells.  What I will be thinking about is how much insulin Aaron will need by injection to "cover" the tasty (guilt-free) cupcake he just ate.  

So do people with diabetes really use needles all day long?
Yes.  More on that next time!  

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Check back later this week for Part 5!

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St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us!


  1. I I a, learning so much. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Aaron!!! Great job on that video! You were awesome! Just uselessly saying again how much I love this series.

  3. Excellent presentation, Aaron! You are so knowledgeable and a such a great teacher too!!

  4. Aaron, thank you your video was fascinating. Our dear friend Jared who is nearly 10 had Type 1 Diabetes so we are blessed to know a fair bit but I learnt more from you too.:) Have sent this to J, he may like watching what you have to say, and I'm going to get my children to watch so they understand even more about J.

  5. whoops, meant has diabetes, not had.

  6. My husband has Type 1 diabetes; I can't wait to show him these memes! haha!!


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