Type 1 diabetes has been recognized since time immemorial. Usually beginning in childhood or adolescence, a misfiring autoimmune response within the body starts destroying the pancreatic cells that create insulin, the hormone that removes glucose from the blood. Without insulin, the body suffers twofold: High blood sugar causes damage to the eyes, heart, and other organs, and poor protein synthesis leads to a general weakening of the body. In short, without insulin, you die. Type 1 diabetes has become a chronic but not necessarily fatal disease—and while it’s no fun injecting yourself with insulin every day, it sure beats dying in your teens.
As for Type 2 diabetes, no one knew it existed until 1935, when physician Harry Himsworth identified it. Today approximately 95 percent of diabetes cases in America are Type 2. Sometimes called slow-onset diabetes, Type 2 generally appears over the course of several years. Here the body produces insulin, but cells don’t respond to it correctly. The first treatment for Type 2 diabetes is almost always a change in diet, exercise habits, and weight loss. Type 2 diabetes disproportionately affects the sedentary, obese, and elderly. And while it, too, is incurable, it can usually be controlled without insulin therapy.