Type 1 vs type 2 diabetes–what are the similarities and differences? Both involve the same imbalance between two important molecules in the body: insulin and glucose. Glucose is a naturally-occurring compound that is the basic fuel that our bodies burn for energy. Our bodies break down dietary carbohydrates, releasing the glucose that our cells need to run. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin is the way our bodies regulate the glucose in the blood. Effectively, insulin shuttles glucose into our cells. After a meal, for example, our gut breaks down food and releases the glucose into our bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise, insulin is released by the pancreas, which moves the glucose from the blood into the cells of our muscles and organs.
In diabetics, insulin does not move the glucose from the blood to the cells, leading to high blood sugar and low sugar levels in our cells, which is a very dangerous condition that can lead to blindness, kidney failure, shock, coma, and death.
Although types 1 and 2 diabetes both involve the glucose-insulin balance going awry, they are different diseases.
Let’s start with type 2, which is more common, and usually the one that people associate with diabetes when they hear the word. In type 2 diabetes, also known as insulin-resistant diabetes, the insulin produced by the pancreas is sent into the blood. However, the cells are insensitive to the hormone, even though the body produces large amounts of insulin. Because of this, cells do not take up glucose from the blood. This means that, although the body has fuel, the cells are starving and blood glucose is too high.
Type 2 diabetes has a variety of causes, including a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance. But the most common factors that predict this kind of diabetes are obesity and sedentary habits. An unhealthy lifestyle leads first to metabolic syndrome, then to full-blown diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is not characterized by insulin resistance. It is an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune diseases mean that the body treats some of its own cells as if they were germ invaders, and attacks them. Type 1 diabetics have antibodies which attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. When this happens, the body can no longer make its own insulin. Type 1 diabetics must take regular insulin shots. Before the discovery of insulin, type 1 diabetes was 100% fatal.
The causes of type 1 are largely unknown, although there is a clear genetic component. However, most patients with the genetic risk factors do not develop diabetes, so there are other factors at work.
Some of the older names for the different types are no longer used by medical professionals, because they are misleading. Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile or early-onset diabetes. It is true that the average age of onset for type 1 is 12. However, it can occur any time throughout life, and is not confined to children. In fact, half of patients who develop type 1 diabetes are adults.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. However, there has recently been an alarming rise in children and teens developing type 2 diabetes. The clear causes of the development of type 2 diabetes in children and most adults are poor diet, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.