Diabetes: What Is It and Who Gets It

Diabetes is a significant problem in the developed world, and is especially prevalent among certain ethnic groups. Yet many people are not really sure what diabetes is, who gets it, and whether or not they are at risk.

The Basics

Diabetes means too much sugar in the blood. Its proper name is diabetes mellitus. The sugar in the diabetic person’s system also comes out in the urine, which diabetics produce a lot of – the ancient Egyptians noticed that the urine of certain people attracted sugar-loving insects like ants. The term „diabetes“ comes from the Greek physician Arateus, and means „to siphon.“ The term „mellitus“ (meaning „honey sweet“) came about in the late 1600s.

Diabetics need to take steps to control their blood sugar levels, something that is normally done automatically within the body. How this is done and to what extent it is done depends on the type of diabetes that is present.


There are two basic types of diabetes. Type I diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, often occurs in childhood. In this type of diabetes, the pancreatic cells are destroyed, either by the body’s own immune system or some external damage to the pancreas, such as injury or surgery. Type I diabetics must inject insulin into their bodies since their pancreas no longer produces insulin. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood and gets it into the body’s cells where it can be used.

Type II diabetes is far more common and tends to occur in adults. Generally, those with Type II diabetes have a functioning pancreas; it just doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the insulin it produces is „ignored“ by the body (insulin resistance). Type II diabetes can sometimes be managed with diet and exercise, and insulin injections may or may not be necessary.

Who Gets Diabetes?

Type I diabetes tends to run in families. Type II diabetes can also run in families, and may occur in at-risk individuals: those who are overweight, sedentary, over the age of 35, or had gestational diabetes in the past. You cannot „catch“ diabetes as it is not caused by a pathogen.

The prevalent opinion among medical professionals is that Type II diabetes can be prevented or minimized through a healthy lifestyle. The theory goes that too much white flour products, white sugar, corn syrup, and other refined sugars and grains cause the pancreas to become exhausted or the body to resist the insulin that is produced.