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5 Things You Didn't Know About Diabetes

23/01/2017 | By Freedom Health Insurance

Diabetes affects millions of people across the world and is seen by some as the disease of the 21st Century (1). Many people already know a few general things about diabetes, but there are also many facts and figures surrounding diabetes that a lot of people may not be aware of. This article will shed light on five facts regarding diabetes that some people may be unaware of.

Diabetes may be Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

Some scientists have suggested that Alzheimer’s Disease could be linked to a form of diabetes (2,3), and proposed for it to be named ‘type 3 diabetes’ following on the results of studies which found that insulin is produced not only by the pancreas but also by the brain (2). The studies, that were conducted by the US Brown Medical School, found that resistance to insulin could be an important aspect of how Alzheimer’s disease develops (2).

Further research funded by the Alzheimer’s Society has found that there are certain drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes which could also be effective in treating Alzheimer’s Disease (4). Diabetes UK, the leading charity in the UK for diabetes, has pointed out the possible link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, although they mention that “more work is needed” (5).

Smoking Could be a Risk Factor for Diabetes

Several studies have been carried out into a possible link between smoking tobacco and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes. Whilst the exact relationship is not yet known, some theories include that smoking could be linked to a resistance to insulin and a deterioration in glucose metabolism, both of which could potentially lead up to type 2 diabetes (6,7).

A joint study by the UCL Medical School and University College Cork found that, whilst quitting smoking could potentially cause weight gain, therefore increasing the risk of diabetes, the long term benefits of stopping smoking outweighed the possible risks of short term weight gain (6).

The Link Between Sugar and Diabetes isn’t as Straightforward as You Might Think

According to a survey carried out by Diabetes UK in 2010, 42% of the survey participants believed that diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar (8). Whilst eating a diet high in sugar can lead to weight gain and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is not linked to diet or weight in any way. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the insulin producing cells in the pancreas being destroyed by the immune system (9).

A systematic review in the British Medical Journal that looked at data from a number of relevant studies, showed that there might be a strong link between type 2 diabetes and drinks that have been sweetened with sugar (10).

Type 2 diabetes is also not only just caused by weight – other factors such as age, family genetics and ethnicity are also key factors (11), with type 2 diabetes being up to six times more likely in people of a South Asian descent, and up to three times more likely in African and Africa-Caribbean people (12). 

Diabetes Isn’t a New Disease

Whilst the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has risen rapidly in recent years, with 1 in 17 people now being diagnosed with the condition (13), the disease is thought to date all the way back to ancient Egypt when it was thought to have been described on papyrus as a disease which caused rapid weight loss and frequent urination. However, it was first named by the Greek physician Aretaeus (30-90CE) who named the condition diabetes which meant ‘a flowing through’ (14).

Five Million People in England are at High Risk of Developing Diabetes

According to Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency which is sponsored by the Department of Health, five million people in England are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes (15). The report looked at blood sugar levels to come to its conclusion. PHE also states that diabetes costs the NHS a total of £8.8 billion each year (15).


As with many medical conditions, there is a lot of information about diabetes that we don’t know, and research is ongoing into some of these hypotheses, such as the link between smoking and diabetes; and whether Alzheimer’s disease is a form of diabetes. Hopefully over the coming years, studies will shed more light onto these proposals.

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1. Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute: Diabetes: Disease of the 21st Century will affect approximately 500 million by 2030. Available here  
2. Type 3 Diabetes. Available here
3. BBC News: Study suggests ‘type 3 diabetes’. Available here
4. Alzheimer’s Society: Diabetes drugs may reverse Alzheimer’s and enters major clinical trial. Available here
5. Diabetes UK: Diabetes in mid-life linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Available here
6. American Diabetes Association: Smoking as a Modifiable Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes in Middle-Aged Men. Available here
7. Action on Smoking and Health: Smoking and Diabetes. Available here
8. Diabetes UK: Diabetes isn’t caused by a sweet tooth- but nearly half of people think it is. Available here
9. Diabetes UK: Does sugar cause Type 2 diabetes? Available here
10. British Medical Journal: Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes, systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. Available here
11. Diabetes UK: Causes of Diabetes. Available here
12. Diabetes and Ethnicity. Available here
13. Diabetes UK: Number of people diagnosed with diabetes reaches 3.2 million. Available here
14. Diabetes History. Available here
15. GOV.UK: Five million people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes. Available here