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Effects of Type 1 Diabetes on Cells & Metabolism

by
author image Gail Morris
Gail Morris has been writing extensively since 1997. She completed a master's degree in nursing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and practiced in medicine for more than 20 years. Morris has published medical articles in peer-reviewed journals and now writes for various online publications and freelances for Internet marketers.
Effects of Type 1 Diabetes on Cells & Metabolism
A doctor is talking to a patient at her desk. Photo Credit Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

Every year in the United States 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, according to KidsHealth, a website published by the nonprofit Nemours Foundation. More than 1 million American children and adults will learn how to deal with the disease every day. Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition for which there is no cure, but there are significant benefits to following treatment protocols designed to keep the disease under control.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes was once called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that ultimately affects how the body uses blood sugar. Blood sugar is derived from the food that we eat and is a necessary source of energy used to fuel all of your body functions. If you suffer from type 1 diabetes it is likely that your own immune system attacked and destroyed the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is required for cells to use blood sugar for fuel and energy. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented and there is no real way to predict who will get it, but scientists believe that there may be a genetic link in combination with an environmental factor, such as a virus.

How Damage is Caused

A high amount of blood sugar in the bloodstream is the cause of damage done at the cellular level. When these blood sugar levels rise beyond acceptable levels, the excess sugar can attach to proteins within the blood vessels, altering their normal structure and function. In this way the arterial blood vessels become thicker and less elastic, which makes it more difficult for blood to flow through. This reduction in arterial flow also reduces the amount of oxygen available to the tissues and can cause damage over time.

Blood Sugar Control

Controlling blood sugar levels is the key factor to reducing the amount of cellular damage. Doctors will use a blood test called the A1C, which measures how much sugar has been bound to proteins over the previous three- to four-month period. The protein measured is hemoglobin, which circulates in the body for approximately three months before dying and being excreted by the liver. By evaluating how much sugar is on your hemoglobin, doctors have a good indication of how much sugar is bound to other proteins in the blood and your overall blood sugar control for the previous three months. If your A1C is low, then you have achieved good blood sugar control and have a lower risk of tissue damage, cellular damage and changes to metabolism.

Cellular Changes

Cellular changes as a result of type 1 diabetes are the result of high blood glucose levels over a long period of time. The most common areas that are affected are the eyes, kidneys and peripheral vascular changes. The reduced blood flow in the micro-vasculature causes damage to the eyes, resulting in cataracts and sometimes blindness. Peripheral vascular changes can lead to neuropathy, which causes numbness in the feet and lower extremities, as well as an increased risk of infection and loss of toes or lower extremities from gangrene.

Metabolic Changes

Individuals who suffer from type 1 diabetes will also experience metabolic changes. Without insulin to usher sugar into the cells, the body begins to burn fat or lean muscle mass for energy. This can result in a condition called ketoacidosis because ketones are the byproduct of fat burning and protein burning in the body. Excess glucose that is not bound to other proteins will be excreted by the kidneys. As the body continues to burn fat and lean muscle mass for energy, the individual will experience a significant weight loss. While some may find this a method of weight loss easy, it does cause significant damage to the body's organs, including the eyes and the kidneys, which can lead to blindness and the loss of kidney function.

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