Saturday, December 12, 2020

Diabetes Etymology

 Diabetes was coined in the late 1800s, but there are accounts of pre-modern societies having rituals for people with too much blood sugar, like increased urination and thirst. In modern times we do not have equivalent ritualistic behaviors, but I think it is interesting that both ancient and modern humans thought that someone with hyperglycemia had an excess of blood. The French word for diabetes translates roughly as "to pass through" or "to go through", which comes from the Greek term for letting one's blood.

A low-carbohydrate diet can reduce blood sugar levels, and so may help with a type of diabetes. A ketogenic diet is one that includes high fat, moderate protein and very few carbohydrates; it has been used for over a century to treat epilepsy in children who do not respond to other treatments.

The word "diabetes" was coined by a German scientist in the late 1800's, and means to pass through. Diabetes has both type 1 and 2, which is confusing because they are so different. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin, or use it efficiently. This can be partly due to lifestyle – too much sugar and fat in one's diet, and little exercise.

The pancreas produces insulin. This is a hormone that helps cells take in glucose, and thus breaks down food into energy.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. Sometimes this is caused by an autoimmune attack on pancreatic cells, part of the body's immune system. Other times it is due to genetics or environmental factors.


The human word 'diabetes' comes from the ancient Greek διαβήτης (diabētēs). The stem of this verb is βαΐω or βαῖνομαι. These words refer to a lack of physical movement and weakness, which has been associated with diabetes since antiquity.


The name for the disease is also connected to bile (Greek: ἀποχρεμός apokhremos), because in some cases it causes yellow skin discoloration by excessive amounts of bile.

The scientific name for diabetes is


diabetes mellitus. This word comes from ancient Greek through Latin: μελι (meli) "honey" + ἕλκη (helkē) "a wound". The disorder was so named because excessive amounts of sugar in the urine were said to be sweeter than honey.

Diabetes mellitus is characterized by frequent urination and thirst, increased need to pass urine, hunger (polyphagia), loss of weight (and thus muscle mass) and weakness. Symptoms that are not related to the kidneys can include excessive fatigue, nausea or vomiting (particularly when associated with meals), blurred vision or other visual impairment, slow-healing sores at the corners of the mouth or under finger nails.

Diabetes mellitus type 1, previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or juvenile-onset diabetes, results when the body can no longer produce sufficient amounts of insulin. The cause is unknown. It arises as a result of autoimmunity against and loss of functional beta cells in the pancreas.

In type 2 diabetes mellitus, formerly called noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), the body does not use insulin efficiently. This is a result of both increased insulin resistance and impaired secretion of insulin.

There are two main types of diabetes:


1. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that results in the body's failure to produce insulin and has no known cause, although it appears to have a genetic component. The disease is treated by using insulin injections. Without these injections, patients will die from type 1 diabetes within a few days.

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