This section of the option now has significant personal significance for me. At the end of November 2018, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Initially, this came as something of a shock to me. I eat a healthy diet, don’t drink too much and am not overweight (I have a relatively healthy BMI of 23.6).

Naturally, the doctors and hospital staff wanted to find out more. There are two types of diabetes, imaginatively titled type 1 and type 2. In simple terms, type 1 occurs when your pancreas stops producing insulin all together and type 2 occurs when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or your body becomes immune to the insulin (or, I guess, both). Type 1 generally occurs in younger people and type 2 generally occurs in overweight people. I was a bit of an anomaly as I seemed too old for type 1 but didn’t present as somebody who was a risk of developing type 2.

After a few straight forward blood tests the result came back – it was type 2. A little bit of digging on my part uncovered the fact that my grandmother and her sister, along with my uncle, all on my father’s side were type 2. Type 2 diabetes does show a strong genetic link so the diagnosis did make sense.

What’s all this got to do with Carbohydrates I hear you ask? Well, diabetes is mentioned in the chemistry guide (syllabus) in section B4 of the biochemistry option under the international mindedness section.

You eat food and carbohydrates get absorbed into your blood. The carbohydrates need to get into your cells to be utilized. This is where insulin comes in. The body detects elevated sugar levels in your blood and your pancreas releases insulin into the blood. The insulin activates cells to allow them to absorb the carbohydrate (it is often referred to as the key that is needed to unlock cells to allow carbohydrates inside). If your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin (type 1 or type 2) or your cells become immune to the insulin (type 2) there is a problem as the cells can’t utilize the carbohydrate.

This is why some diabetics need to inject insulin, to replace the amount the body is missing. However, if the problem is caused by insulin resistance (type 2), a drug needs to be administered. The drug is called Metformin and causes (amongst other things) the cells to become more responsive to insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem (Metformin was the 8th most dispensed drug in the US in 2017)1. One of the reasons for this is the number of overweight people in the world are increasing.

This following YouTube clip explains the processes that are occurring in type 2 diabetes:

1 Source: