What is type 2 diabetes exactly? How do you know if you are at risk for getting it or if you have it? This is important in a world being overrun by the diabetes epidemic. Globally, 183 million people — half of those with diabetes — don’t know they have it. Finally, what does diabetes do to your body if left untreated? You can’t come to grips with this frightening disease unless you begin to understand its implications.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Your pancreas makes the hormone insulin. Under normal circumstances, insulin attaches to cells and opens the gate for sugar to enter through the cell membrane. Once inside the cell, the sugar you have consumed (in the form of sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, corn syrup, caramel color, etc.) is either used or stored as glycogen (a sugar storage molecule) or converted into fat. But when you have diabetes, a metabolic imbalance prevents blood sugar from effectively entering into cells to be used properly. When blood sugar remains too high over time, it damages the cells and impairs the function of the heart, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, immune system and skin. I’ll discuss more of this later.
In the case of type 1 diabetes (aka juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes), insulin is not made in sufficient quantities by the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes insulin levels rise but cannot be used by the cell membranes. In type 2 cells are considered to be resistant to insulin; and, like type 1 diabetes, sugar rises in the blood. High-circulating blood sugar levels damage the most vulnerable organ systems.
It is important to recognize that sugar and oxygen are the main energy sources for all cells. However, the body cannot process sugar properly unless there are an abundance of micronutrient vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, enzymes and antioxidant phytochemicals available. In other words, lack of nutrient-rich raw and cooked whole foods in your diet sets you up for chronic illness.
Other Risk Factors
Other factors besides a chronic excess of dietary sugars contribute to diabetes:
- Family history of diabetes in your immediate family or first-degree relatives.
- Excess body weight (obesity).
- Physical inactivity.
- Increasing age.
- High triglycerides (an early sign of a high insulin state).
- Skin tags, which have an 80 percent correlation with developing diabetes.
- Polycystic ovary disease, characterized by obesity, facial hair and fewer than normal menses.
- Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Ethnicity: African-Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Indians, Asians, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are all more vulnerable to diabetes.
Signs And Symptoms
If you have these signs or symptoms, you’ll want to see your doctor for more blood testing:
- Any symptoms of increased urination or excess thirst.
- Unusual weight loss.
- Recurrent blurred vision.
- Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet.
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal.
- Frequent infections.
- Low blood sugar symptoms: nausea, weakness or moodiness after meals.
- Known heart disease, hypertension or excess anger/depression.
Complications Of Type 2 Diabetes
If high blood sugar continues for more than about five years, the complications of diabetes start to be evident and are largely irreversible.
- Glaucoma risk increases by 40 percent in untreated diabetes. This is a condition where pressure builds up in the eyeball, damaging the optic nerve and retina (the location where sensitive nerve endings detect images).
- Cataract risk increases by 60 percent in untreated diabetes. A cataract is a clouded defect of an otherwise normal clear lens.
- Diabetic retinopathy (non-proliferative and proliferative) results from damaged blood vessels and nerves of the retina.
- Neuropathy: numbness at the ends of the toes. This also contributes to poor circulation and poor wound healing.
- Foot ulcers: a result of neuropathy and small vessel disease so that healing is poor.
- Amputation: Over many years, a “dead” toe, foot or lower limb necessitates amputation.
Skin Complications (linked to poor immune system function and poor tissue healing)
- Bacterial infections such as sties (glands of the eyelid), boils, abscesses and nail infections are very common.
- Fungal infections such as candidiasis (folds of skin, athlete’s foot, vaginitis).
- Dermatoses of various types such as dark coloration (acanthosis nigricans), raised red lesions (necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum) and diabetic blisters, for example.
Heart Disease And Stroke
- The risk of heart attack more than doubles in untreated diabetes.
- Compared with non-diabetic non-hypertensives who have no signs of cardiovascular disease, people with a combination of diabetes, hypertension and lab tests that indicate disease had a twelvefold increased risk of stroke, according to a study of more than 1,300 diabetic patients followed for six years as reported in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and vascular biology. 
- Hypertension is a risk factor that makes the heart attack risk even higher. The goal for a diabetic is below 120/70 mmHg.
- High LDL-cholesterol and low HDL-cholesterol levels are also heart attack risk factors.
Kidney Disease (Nephropathy)
- Once kidneys fail, ongoing dialysis therapy or a transplant surgery is required for patients to survive.
Peripheral Artery Disease
- Fatty deposits narrow or block blood vessels in the legs. This occurs in one out of every three individuals over age 50 with diabetes.
- Gastroparesis often occurs: The stomach does not empty normally and can cause nausea and bloating.
Anyone will agree that diabetes can take its toll if left untreated. In my report next week, I’ll discuss standard medical treatment for diabetes. After that, I’ll explain how to go to the next level and actually reverse diabetes completely without prescription medications.
To longevity and feeling good,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options
 Kuller LH, Velentgas P, et al. Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 2000; 20: 823-829.