This post is the first in a six-part series taken from the article by Keith Wassung entitled “Diabetes and Chiropractic”.  This series focuses on diabetes as a disease,  traditional treatments, and the ways chiropractic care can help. This week’s post provides a brief introduction to diabetes as a disease. 

Part 1: About the Disease

Over twenty million people in the United States have diabetes mellitus, half of which are undiagnosed. In both human and economic terms, it is one of our nation’s most costly health conditions.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, and amputations. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and birth defects, shortens average life expectancy by up to 15 years, and costs the nation in excess of $100 billion annually in health- related expenditures.

At present, more than one of every ten health-care dollars and about one of every four Medicare dollars are spent on people with diabetes.


Wristbands labeled "Diabetic"


Over the next decade, these numbers will grow as the number of people afflicted by diabetes continues to increase at an accelerating rate.

At present, there is no method to prevent or cure diabetes, and available treatment have only limited success in controlling its devastating consequences.


Graph showing estimated increase in number of people affected with diabetes world-wide. Growth from 382 million in 2013 to an estimated 592 million in 2035.


The facts about diabetes leave no doubt about its seriousness. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, currently, an estimated 18 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes – a six fold increase over the past four decades.

Center for Disease Control



Diabetes mellitus is a disorder of metabolism that results from a deficiency of insulin, a hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is required for the removal of sugar (glucose) from the blood by muscles after a meal and to prevent the over secretion of glucose from the liver during periods of fasting.

Insulin transports glucose into the cells for use as energy and storage as glycogen. It also stimulates protein synthesis and free fatty acid storage in the fat deposits. When a person lacks sufficient insulin, body tissues have less access to essential nutrients for fuel.


Diagram of the pancreas Diagram of the inner pancreas

Diagram of how the pancreas helps the body maintain homeostasis

An inadequate amount or inefficient action of insulin leads to elevated blood levels of glucose, the hallmark of diabetes.

This problem is made more complex by the fact that diabetes mellitus is not a single disease, but occurs in several forms, and has complications that affect virtually every system of the body.

The most common forms are Type 1 (insulin- dependent) diabetes, which usually starts in childhood or adolescence, and Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, which typically affects adults and increases dramatically with age and obesity.

Other types include gestational diabetes mellitus (gdm), which occurs during pregnancy, and “other specific types” which include people who have diabetes because of a genetic defect, endocrinopathologies or exposure to certain drugs or chemicals.



Type 1 diabetes is due to destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas by an autoimmune reaction (an attack on these cells by the body’s immune system that normally works to fend off infections).

Image of a normal pancreas Type 2 diabetes results from a combination of chronic resistance to the biological action of insulin and the body’s inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance.

Diabetes insipidus is a disorder of water metabolism resulting from a deficiency of the hormone vasopressin and has no relationship to diabetes mellitus.



  1. Center for Disease Control, 1999 Annual Review