What causes diabetes?

Diabetes in a nutshell

If you've just been diagnosed with diabetes, you must be wondering what exactly it is and how it affects your body. What are insulin and glucose, and what do they do? Here are some answers.

See our short animation below which explains how diabetes affects the body.

So, what is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (the full name for diabetes) is a common condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body can't use it properly. This is because the body's way of converting glucose into energy is not working as it should.

The key players

Insulin is a hormone (a chemical messenger) that carefully controls the amount of glucose in your blood. Insulin is made by a gland called the pancreas, which lies just behind your stomach.

Glucose from food gives your body energy, and insulin acts as a 'key' to unlock your body cells to let glucose in. The cells use glucose as fuel for your body. Glucose comes from digesting carbohydrate foods, which include starchy foods (like bread, rice and potatoes), fruit, some dairy foods (like yogurt and milk), sugar and other sweet foods.

What does diabetes do to me?

When you have diabetes, the glucose stays locked outside your cells, so it can't get into the cells to be made into energy, making you feel tired and unwell. This is because your body is not making enough insulin - or none at all. 

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