The Gist of It:
- Type 1 diabetes is insulin-dependent and affects children and young adults.
- Type 2 diabetes is non-insulin-dependent and is the most common form of diabetes in Malaysia.
- Type 3 diabetes affects the brains and is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And it’s in my blood oh no!
Diabetes has been around for ages and probably gave birth to the phrase “teh tarik kurang manis”. I’m sure most of you might know someone who has it or you yourself are being treated for it, but how much do we really know about this?
What is Diabetes?
Well, according to our friends at the Persatuan Diabetes Malaysia, diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin — a type of hormone that is needed to convert sugar into energy by feeding it to the cells in our body.
The cause of diabetes is still pretty much unknown although both genetics and environment appear to play roles. Diabetes is actually a general term for a number of individual, but related conditions. These conditions fall into three main categories:
Type 1 Diabetes
What: Insulin-dependent diabetes which usually occurs during childhood or adolescence.
- Children and young adults
- Siblings of people with Type 1.
- Children of parents with Type 1.
How: The body’s immune system attacks and kills off its own insulin producing cells, making it unable to produce insulin.
Also known as juvenile diabetes as it is most commonly found in kids, this is the only time where taking candy from a baby is a good thing!
This is an autoimmune disease that permanently destroys beta cells in the pancreas making the body unable to produce insulin. Kids with this require regular insulin delivery to move their blood glucose into cells. Without insulin the glucose will just hang around in the bloodstream and your cells will starve to death. Literally.
The chances of getting this are sadly higher than most severe chronic diseases of childhood. It’s even worse when this diabetes runs in family! Siblings of children with Type 1 have about a 10% chance of developing the disease themselves.
Frightful fact: The symptoms for Type 1 can mimic flu-like symptoms, making detection not so easy.
Type 2 Diabetes
What: Non-insulin-dependent diabetes that usually occurs after the age of 30.
- People with a family history of diabetes.
- People who are overweight.
- People who do not exercise regularly.
- Women who have had a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds at birth.
How: Insulin is not used effectively by the body to take in glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and convert it into energy, becoming insulin resistant.
One of the most common types; this is actually a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycemia (a fancy term for being sugar high). This happens because the body is ineffective at using the naturally produced insulin or unable to produce enough insulin at all.
Most people are not aware that they have Type 2 until they go for a blood test or are treated for one of its serious complications, and the risk of getting it increases as you get older.
Frightful fact: In 2010 diabetes was responsible for over 23,800 deaths in Malaysia. 
Type 3 Diabetes
What: Unlike Types 1 and 2 that only affect the body, Type 3 affects the brain.
Who: Mostly adults aged 55 and above
How: Reduced or no insulin in the brain.
Some researchers have begun to call Alzheimer’s disease the unofficial ‘type 3 diabetes’. Why?
We’ll make this simple; in Types 1 and 2 – the body is not producing/not managing enough insulin and it affects the functioning of the whole body. Whereas in Alzheimer’s disease, it appears that a similar problem is occurring but instead of causing problems in the entire body’s functioning, the brain is affected.
Let’s side track a little, Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the neurons in the brain and is most commonly found in people over the age of 65. It is also the leading cause of dementia (loss of brain functions due to disease).
Researchers found morbid evidence of this when they studied people’s brains after their death (Yes some people do that to for a living, pun unintended). They found that the brains of those with Alzheimer’s (who did not have Types 1 or 2) showed many of the same abnormalities of those with diabetes; such as reduced levels of insulin in the brain. This led researchers to conclude that perhaps Alzheimer’s is a brain-specific type of diabetes which they termed “type 3 diabetes. 
HealthWorks is currently running a series on diabetes, click here to read more on this silent killer.