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  • Bowie Matteson

Is it fair to group Type I and Type II diabetes together?

Or maybe the better question: Why does Diabetes really only mean Type II diabetes?


When you hear someone talking about diabetes, I already know what images pop into your head. You think:


Old people

Obese people


And why wouldn’t you? The term diabetes gets thrown around an awful lot today and it almost always caters to two demographics… old and obese people.


Did you know there are two types? Type I and Type II? With 1 in 10 people in the U.S. currently dealing with Type II diabetes, it takes the “cake” (get it?) when it comes to media coverage.


But there’s an important distinction between the two. And the over generalization and profiling of one comes at the expense of really understanding the other.


Let’s break it down.


Type I - Juvenile Diabetes


As the name suggests, Type I diabetes is generally developed early on in childhood. Personally, I was diagnosed a few months after my 8th birthday. It is far less prevalent than Type II, about 5% of the total cases of diabetes in the U.S.


The origin of Type I is largely unknown. There are several theories that postulate both environmental (possibly dietary) and inherited genetic factors that go into the disease’s development. It is unclear exactly how or why Type I occurs, when it does and with whom it does.


Type I comes about when the cells of the pancreas responsible for insulin production no longer create insulin. Type I diabetics are entirely dependent on exogenous insulin in order to metabolize glucose.


Type II Diabetes - Adult-Onset Diabetes


Again, the name states the demographic largely affected by Type II. It is by far the overwhelming majority of cases of diabetes (About 95% of all diabetics and 10.5% of the U.S. population), affecting nearly 34 million people in 2018. About ¼ of those are above the age of 65.


The specifics of Type II diabetes’ origins are still being crystallized but there are many more leads to trace than with Type I. About 85% of the T2D population are obese and consume a carbohydrate and fat-heavy diet.


Type II diabetics are still able to produce their own insulin, but either produce insufficient amounts or have lost cellular sensitivity to the hormone. There have been several studies that have demonstrated Type II diabetes being “reversible” with weight reduction (either surgically or through diet) and diet manipulation. That is to say patients have regained insulin sensitivity and no longer need exogenous insulin or additional medication to regulate their blood sugar.


Why It’s Important


I can remember being a kid and seeing commercials for new Type II diabetes medications that would always end with the disclaimer at the end: “Not for those with Type I diabetes”. And I thought, “what gives?”. Or having to explain to friends and their families: “No I’m not fat or old like your grandpa, but yes it is diabetes. Yes, it’s the same...just different.”


Type II diabetics are much more prone to profiling, largely due to the seemingly causal link to obesity. Type I’s are harder to profile. Their disease arose sooner than the habits that one would typically use to profile a Type II. There are a number of professional Type I athletes. In fact, my Type I diagnosis was the catalyst in the formation of many of my healthy habits; things like monitoring my diet, avoiding overly indulgent or sweet things, and staying as active as possible. This is in comparison to Type II that seems to have arisen because of poor exercise and eating habits.


For the longest time after my diagnosis in 2001, I dreamt of a cure for Type I diabetes. I pictured myself in a lab growing pancreases in petri dishes and at the surgical table cutting people open. This clonal outlook on regrowing and replacing “bad” organs has slowly started to be replaced by a nurturing and healing approach to the functional system we already have. And as “diabetes” began to include Type II more and more as time went on, my dream for a cure expanded.


With the information at hand, I believe there's a “cure” for both Type I and Type II. And to take it further, not only can we help educate those with the disease to a state of greater health, but also educate a future generation of healthy kids to avoid the same mistakes that brought about our current state today.


My goal here is to not let Type I's get left out of the commercial again, so to speak. Diabetics helping diabetics.


What do you think? Do both Type I and Type II belong in the same conversation?

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