What is Diabetes? Symptoms, Causes and Types

Find everything you need to know about diabetes in this article, from its causes to its symptoms.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition characterised by high blood sugar or glucose levels in the human body. It can have a profound effect on one’s life and often comes with debilitating side effects. While it’s true that it can be managed effectively, anyone suffering from diabetes must take the right steps to reduce any chances of complications. Diabetes develops when the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin, or the body has trouble responding to insulin in the right manner, also known as insulin resistance. Insufficient insulin means the body cannot manage blood sugar levels effectively. Insulin resistance, on the other hand, prevents glucose from entering cells and results in a glucose build-up in the bloodstream. 

The Role of Glucose and Insulin

Glucose, derived primarily from carbohydrates in our food and drinks, is the body’s main source of energy. Insulin works like a key, opening the doors to our cells and allowing glucose to enter. Most cells in the human body utilise this glucose, along with amino acids and fats, for energy. Considering glucose uptake in a cell is dictated by insulin, insufficient insulin production or improper insulin utilisation leads to an accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream, triggering hyperglycemia (a term used to refer to high blood sugar levels). 

Types of Diabetes

A glucose molecule branching into the three types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes.

There are primarily 2 types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in your pancreas for unknown reasons. Type 2 Diabetes is characterised by insufficient insulin production or improper responses to insulin by cells in your body. This is the most common type of diabetes and affects primarily adults, though children might be afflicted as well. Prediabetes is the condition before the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, and is characterised by higher than normal blood glucose levels, but below the threshold of disease. Gestational diabetes only develops in some cases of pregnancy and usually dissipates after birth. Someone who has suffered from gestational diabetes, however, has a higher chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

A Deeper Look into the Causes of Diabetes

Insulin resistance is the leading cause of Type 2 Diabetes. When cells in muscles, fat and the liver stop responding to insulin properly, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being used by cells. This means cells are starved of their energy source, causing disease.

A range of factors contribute to the development of Type 2 Diabetes, including: 

  1. Obesity: Higher amounts of non-esterified fatty acids, among other things, that contribute to insulin resistance are released. 
  2. Lack of physical activity: Exercise counteracts the effect of insulin resistance, encouraging the pancreas to produce less insulin.
  3. Diet: Certain foods can increase blood sugar levels, in turn increasing insulin production. Over time, the body might develop a resistance to insulin.
  4. Hormonal imbalances: Various hormonal disorders and imbalances could lead to insulin resistance, like Cushing’s syndrome. 
  5. Genetics: Family history of insulin resistance is strongly correlated with diabetes.
  6. Certain medications: Some medicine consumption might result in insulin resistance as a side effect, causing cells to reject the hormone. 

Conversely, Type 1 Diabetes is most often caused by autoimmune diseases. This occurs when the immune system recognises crucial insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as a threat. The immune system then attacks these cells, resulting in significantly lower insulin production and higher blood glucose levels. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also affect insulin levels. The placenta produces hormones that can induce insulin resistance, potentially leading to gestational diabetes if the pancreas cannot compensate by producing sufficient insulin.

Symptoms of Diabetes

A list of the symptoms of diabetes, from hazy vision, increased thirst and hunger to numb hands/feet, weight loss and fatigue.


Diabetes has a wide range of symptoms that can interfere with day-to-day activities. Early symptoms include polydipsia, or increased thirst, and dry mouth. People may also urinate more frequently in an attempt to get rid of extra glucose from the bloodstream. Another common symptom is fatigue, resulting from an inability to use glucose efficiently. Even with regular eating habits, there is a chance of sudden weight loss and developing hazy vision. Further, diabetes-related nerve degeneration can result in tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. Cuts and sores take a long time to heal because high blood sugar inhibits the body's natural healing mechanisms. Regular yeast infections of the skin and vagina are also common, which is indicative of the weakened immune system linked to diabetes. 

Luckily, there are many ways to keep the symptoms of diabetes in check. From lifestyle modifications to herbal formulations, numerous ways exist to manage high blood sugar levels. Cannabinoid medication, like Shunyata Pain, has been found to be effective in managing diabetes and endocrine dysfunction generally.