My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 9 years old. I had no idea there were different types and the similar sounding names can be confusing. But I don’t get cross or upset when people don’t understand and assume she can’t eat sugar or may be overweight, because I had no idea what Type 1 Diabetes was either when we travelled by high speed ambulance to Newcastle’s Great North Children’s Hospital.

I had no idea how dangerous undiagnosed Type 1 could be either and I just couldn’t get my head around what was going on as it all happened so quickly. It sends shivers down my spine now to think how close we came to losing her.

So if you read my ‘Extra Sweet’ post you’ll have a bit of an idea what Type 1 diabetes is. It’s not caused by lifestyle, food, lack of activity or another illness. If fact, researchers have been looking for the answer to this question since the first human being with Type 1 Diabetes was administered insulin by Sir Frederick Grant Banting, marking one of the biggest medical discoveries of the 20th Century. Until then, type 1 Diabetes was a death sentence.


How Type 1 diabetes develops

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means it results from the immune system mistakenly attacking parts of the body. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the immune system incorrectly targets insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

Nobody knows why this occurs, or how to stop it. The immune systems of people with Type 1 diabetes continue to attack beta cells until the pancreas is incapable of producing insulin.

People with Type 1 diabetes need to inject themselves with insulin to compensate for the death of their beta cells. Everyone with Type 1 diabetes is insulin-dependent.

How Type 2 diabetes develops

Type 2 diabetes is different. The autoimmune systems of people with Type 2 diabetes don’t attack beta cells. Instead, Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body losing its ability to respond to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance.

Type 1 Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes
Often diagnosed in childhood Usually diagnosed in over 30 year olds. The body compensates for the ineffectiveness of its insulin by producing more, but it can’t always produce enough. Over time, the strain placed on the beta cells by this level of insulin production can destroy them, diminishing insulin production.
Not associated with excess body weight Often associated with excess body weight
Often associated with higher than normal ketone levels at diagnosis Often associated with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels at diagnosis
Treated with insulin injections or insulin pump Is usually treated initially without medication or with tablets
Cannot be controlled without taking insulin Sometimes possible to come off diabetes medication
Does not affect diet and no need to restrict any sugar or carbohydrate foods – normal healthy diet is advised the same as for everyone on the planet May need to watch levels of sugar consumed or opt for diabetic-friendly foods

type 1

So when my daughter attends a party, or a family member wants to buy her an Easter egg or Christmas Selection box, it’s just business as usual. If they ask what they can buy her or what she can have, I just smile ‘sweetly’ and patiently explain that she can have the same food as before. People often assume she can’t eat the same as other children or that there are foods she must avoid, but as long as we work how many carbohydrates there are in what she is about to eat, we can work out how much insulin she will need to inject in order to keep her blood glucose level in range. So many other things affect glucose levels though, for example exercise (anaerobic and aerobic affect it differently), hormones, the glycaemic index of a food, excitement, adrenaline, the weather – it can sometimes make it very difficult to think like a pancreas!