You may have heard that Diabetes is a “new epidemic” related to sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
You may have diabetes, or know someone with diabetes. So you may be curious and look into it a little more. You discover that more than 30 million Americans have diabetes and 84 million more have pre-diabetes. You also learn that diabetes is often found in overweight or obese people; in fact an 11 lbs. weight gain from early to late adulthood increases your risk of diabetes by 30%.
So is diabetes a new disease?
Not so! In western medicine, the first mention of “excessive urination“--a condition that may be diabetes--is written on Egyptian papyrus dating from 1550 BC. The name “diabetes” itself originates from a Greek physician who, in 250 BC, introduces the Greek name, Diabetes--meaning siphon or passing through--to describe the frequent urination of his patients. A few centuries later, a Greek physician gave a description of the disease: “the melting down of the flesh and limbs into urine.”
The current scientific name, Diabetes Mellitus, was introduced by an English physician in the 18th century after tasting the urine of one of his diabetic patients! He noted that “it tastes like honey, so let me use the Greek translation, mellitus!” One century later, in Germany, two physicians demonstrate the role of the pancreas; “if you remove the pancreas in dogs, they start urinating sugar.” A Canadian physician and a medical student showed that by injecting extracts of pancreas in diabetic dogs, you could lower their blood sugar. Later, an English physiologist discovered a substance secreted by the “islets of Langherans" in the pancreas. He called it Insulin, this time from the Latin insula, meaning “island.”
In 1922, Insulin was introduced as a medication for the treatment of diabetes. The observation of vascular disease in diabetic patients was first described in 1948 at Harvard and the relationship between diabetes and cardiovascular disease was confirmed by subsequent epidemiological studies. Oral medications were introduced in 1955. In 1959, two types of diabetes were noted: type I due to lack of insulin, and type II due to resistance to insulin.
So, diabetes is not a new disease, but the knowledge about the mechanisms and the treatment of the disease are relatively new. However, despite all of this medical progress, diabetes was still the 7th cause of death in the USA in 2015. Moreover, the percentage of patients with diabetes in the population is increasing, not only in the USA, but around the world, including Africa and Asia.
In our clinics, at School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County, our first priority is prevention. When we see overweight children or adults, we recommend a healthy lifestyle: lots of physical activities and a well-balanced diet. We screen our patients for pre-diabetes and diabetes on a regular basis. If diabetes is detected, our medical team will help the patients manage it. Our physicians--especially Dr. Bymaster in Family Medicine and Dr. Misra, Pediatric Endocrinologist and a specialist in type I diabetes--are the leaders of our team, which includes Nurse Practitioners, a Chronic Care Coordinator, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Medical Assistants. Medications used to control diabetes are selected according to the unique needs of each patient. In addition, the medical team treating the diabetic patient recommends quitting smoking and taking specific medications for the prevention of the most serious complications of diabetes: heart attack and stroke. Patients with diabetes must have regular monitoring of their kidneys, eyes, feet and neurological functions--all organs that can be affected by the condition.
In conclusion, diabetes is not a new disease, but it is more frequent than before. However, it is not as devastating as it used to be, thanks to a better understanding of the causes along with the medications introduced within the last decades. Many diabetic patients can now have a healthy and complication-free life.
Loriaux, D Lynn MD, PhD
Diabetes and The Ebers Papyrus: 1552 B.C.
Endocrinologist: March/April 2006 - Volume 16 - Issue 2 - pp 55-56
World Health Organization