Is Diabetes An Autoimmune Disease?

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Since diabetes is mostly attributed to weight gain and unhealthy lifestyle choices, it may as well be related to or considered to be an autoimmune disease. Could that be true? And if proved, we could be a step closer to changing the course of its treatment altogether! But wait, what is an autoimmune disease? Autoimmune disease refers to an illness or disorder that occurs when healthy tissues (cells) are destroyed by the body’s immune system. With constant advancements in science, we move closer to new and improved discoveries every passing day. The latest one being type 2 diabetes may be in the process of being redefined as an autoimmune disease rather than being just a metabolic disorder! 

According to a new study published in Nature Medicine, the findings of type 2 diabetes being an autoimmune disease may lead to new treatments that target the immune system instead of trying to control blood sugar! Co-author Daniel Winer, an endocrine pathologist at the University Health Network of the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada explains, “This ground-breaking work can change the way people think about obesity, and most likely impact medicine for years to come as physicians begin to switch their focus to immune-modulating treatments for type-2 diabetes.”

The immune system is the body’s protection agent against harmful substances that enter our body, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins, all of which contain harmful antigens. To combat this, the immune system produces and sends antibodies (special proteins) to identify and destroy these antigens. However sometimes, in some cases, the immune system cannot distinguish between healthy tissue and antigens and, as a result, attacks and destroys normal tissue. In people with type 1 diabetes, the cells mistakenly targeted are the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, leaving the body unable to produce insulin and also in some cases not keep blood glucose under control. This autoimmune reaction triggers the development of an autoimmune disease.

Symptoms of autoimmune diseases:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Achiness
  • Weight loss
  • Concentration issues
  • Numbness/tingling in extremities
  • Insomnia
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Fertility problems
  • Abdominal pain

How can an autoimmune disease be treated and can it be prevented?

While there isn’t any known prevention or cure for most autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, there are various methods of treating them, depending on the type of disease. These treatments are aimed at controlling the disease and alleviating the symptoms:

  • Healthy lifestyle 
  • Medication
  • Avoiding any known causes of flare-ups
  • Physical therapy
  • Hormone replacement, if necessary
  • Blood transfusions, in cases blood is affected

While future research could confirm that type 2 diabetes is indeed an autoimmune disease, more research is needed before that can be considered. Until then, continue to test your blood sugar levels regularly, pump or inject insulin to maintain a “normal” range of blood sugar levels, and keep your body healthy!