Diabetes – The History of Treatment

The treatment of diabetes stretches back more than 2,000 years. Well, what we now believe to be diabetes anyway. Writings found in China and India over the years discussed a condition that sounded exactly like diabetes mellitus. The descriptions they wrote were the same symptoms as the Greeks and Romans had reported as well. Those descriptions? That urine tasted sweet. That leads one to wonder why someone would be tasting urine, but that's a discussion for another time.

Another things that the writings from China and India described was the frequent urination condition. But it was not until 1776 – a very good year here in the US – that researchers discovered the cause of the sweetness of urine – glucose! Then, it was not until the next century before doctors developed a chemical test that had one purpose – to measure the glucose level in the urine.

Discoveries in later times indicated that the pancreas was responsible for producing insulin – a critical substance that plays huge role in the body by controlling the glucose in the blood. Once that discovery was made, it was only a matter of time before ways were developed to extract insulin and purify it. That purified insulin was then given to people who had low insulin levels.

Once insulin was discovered, folks who specialized in diabetes – with Elliot Joslin at the helm – came up with a simple three treatment plan. Funny how this plan is the same today as it was back in 1921 when it was put into play:

1. Control your diet

2. Employ an effective exercise plan

3. Use of medication to control diabetes

Insulin saved thousands of lives once it was discovered. Until that time, the only real treatment known was starvation. But the discovery did not solve all of the problems associated with diabetes. Not by a long shot. Problems with eyes, kidneys and the nervous system started to surface in those with diabetes as they aged.

Another issue was the insulin did not offer any assistance to those in a much larger group of people with what is now know as Type 2 diabetes. The problem for these folks was not a lack of insulin, but a resistance to it. Fortunately, doctors now have the tools needed to bring the disease under control.

The next big event in the overall effort to effectively treat diabetes was in 1955 when the group of drugs called sulfonylureas were discovered. These drugs were the first that a patient could take by mouth that would actually lower their blood glucose levels. But there was still a big problem. Sure, those drugs were a big help, but the only way someone would know if their blood glucose levels were high was via a urine test. Not only was this inconvenient, it was really not something that permitted someone to control their diabetes.

Finally, in the early 1980's, the very first portable blood glucose meters were made available. Once that happened, it then became possible for someone to relate treatment to an actual measurable outcome! Once this development took place, it allowed for the discovery of other drugs for diabetics such as metformin, pioglitazone and likely many others that are not even on the drawing board yet.

Portable meters make the job of monitoring your diabetes so much easier than it ever has been in the past.