Beginners guide to type 1 diabetes treatment

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, in which your body’s immune system attacks your pancreas and prevents it from producing enough insulin. This is a problem because your body needs insulin to keep your blood sugar at the right level.

Unfortunately, at present there is no type 1 diabetes cure. There are however type 1 diabetes treatments, and with some modifications to your lifestyle you may be able to lessen your symptoms.

Here’s everything you need to know about type 1 diabetes treatment:

What are the main type 1 diabetes treatments?

The most common forms of type 1 diabetes treatment are:

  • Taking insulin
  • Carbohydrate, fat, and protein counting
  • Frequent blood sugar monitoring
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight

Type 1 diabetes insulin therapy is the primary form of treatment for type 1 diabetics. It involves taking insulin through medication, to compensate for the insulin your body isn’t producing.

However, because your blood sugar levels must be kept stable, as a type 1 diabetic you need to carefully plan the timing and dose of your insulin medication.

To do this, you’ll need to monitor your blood sugar levels using a blood glucose meter.

You’ll also need to plan and measure your meals, and understand how many carbohydrates, fats and proteins your food contains – Knowing this will help you predict how much your meals will affect your blood sugar levels, and how much insulin you’ll need to take to compensate for them.

It’s also a good idea to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. This will make your blood sugar levels more predictable, and easier to manage.

And you must take the right kind of insulin, at the right time.

What types of insulin medication are there?

There are four basic types of insulin:

  • Rapid-acting: Takes effect within 15 minutes, and usually lasts 3-4 hours. Is typically taken just before a meal, to compensate for an expected sudden, strong increase in blood sugar levels.
  • Short-acting: Starts working within about 30-60 minutes, and lasts 5-8 hours. Is also typically taken before a meal.
  • Intermediate-acting: Begins to take effect within 1-2 hours, and lasts up to 14 hours.
  • Long-acting: Usually starts working within 2 hours, and lasts for up to 24 hours. Generally used to maintain a background level of insulin, and is typically taken at night before bed.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes treatment?

The main difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes treatment is that type 1 diabetes treatment relies on insulin – As a type 1 diabetic, you have to take insulin medication.

A type 2 diabetic may not need to take insulin medication, as their body is still producing some insulin naturally. As a result, they may be able to treat their diabetes by adjusting their lifestyle and diet.

These aren’t the only differences though. Here’s a quick summary of some of the others:

Difference Type 1 Type 2
Cure Currently, there’s no cure for type 1 diabetes. However, careful management of the disease may lessen the severity of symptoms. Currently, there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes. However, careful lifestyle management can help lessen the symptoms, as well as delay the onset of the disease and potentially reverse it.
Medications Type 1 diabetics require daily insulin injections. Type 2 diabetics may not need to take insulin at all, and could take alternative oral medications to help control blood glucose levels.
Lifestyle modifications Type 1 diabetics should follow a healthy diet plan, exercise, monitor their cholesterol levels, and carefully manage their insulin. This will help decrease the chances of developing type 1 diabetes-related complications. Type 2 diabetics should carefully manage their weight and monitor their cholesterol and blood pressure levels. This is because obesity is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and maintaining a healthy weight can help delay the onset of the disease and lessen the symptoms.

What are the possible complications of type 1 diabetes?

As a type 1 diabetic, it’s important to monitor and manage your blood glucose levels, because if you don’t you increase your risk of developing both short and long-term complications.

Taking the right amounts of insulin, and at the right times, can help you avoid these potential problems.

Possible short-term complications

Many of diabetes type 1’s short-term complications can be avoided with proper blood glucose level management. However, they’re still common – 54% of type 1 diabetics in South East Asia (India and Malaysia) report having at least one episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) within a 4 week period.

  • Hypoglycemia: Occurs when your blood sugar levels are too low. Mild symptoms include tiredness, hunger, headaches, dizziness, and shakes. Severe symptoms can include loss of consciousness and seizures.
  • Hyperglycemia: Occurs when your blood sugar levels are too high. Mild symptoms include fatigue, thirst, hunger, headaches, and blurred vision.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis: Occurs when someone has been hyperglycemic for a long period of time. Unable to break down glucose into energy, their body starts to break down fats instead. This releases ketones into their bloodstream, making their blood more acidic. This can cause nausea, vomiting, disorientation, coma and potentially death.

Possible long-term complications

If you don’t manage your blood glucose levels effectively, this can cause microvascular and macrovascular damage (damage to your small and large blood vessels).

If your blood vessels are damaged, this can lead to problems with your organs, including your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.

  • Eyes: Common eye complications among type 1 diabetics are retinopathy (damage to the retina) and cataracts. Both can cause loss of vision. To help avoid this, you should get your eyes checked at least once a year.
  • Kidneys: Diabetic nephropathy is a condition in which your kidney functions begin to deteriorate. This can reduce their ability to purify your blood, and filter and remove waste.
  • Nerves: Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of type 1 diabetes, and happens when your body is unable to supply blood to your nerves leading to nerve damage. If your nerves are damaged, you may experience a loss of sensation in your feet, as well as pain, weakness or tingling. You should check your feet regularly for wounds or sores, and if you notice one consult your doctor immediately.
  • Heart: Type 1 diabetics are more likely to develop cardiovascular complications, including coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart attack. To help avoid this, as well as maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and eating right, you should also make sure you exercise regularly and sleep well.

Are there diabetes type 1 treatments without insulin?

As there is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes, the widely accepted treatment is to take insulin medication.

However, it’s normal for type 1 diabetics, especially those who have been recently diagnosed, to hope and search for alternative treatments.

When it comes to alternative diabetes type 1 treatments without insulin, two approaches are commonly explored – Homeopathy and Ayurveda.

It’s important to note however, that there’s not enough evidence to support either of these treatments as a suitable alternative for taking insulin medication, and they’re not widely recommended. If you’re interested in homeopathy or ayurvedic medicine as a method for treating your type 1 diabetes, you should consult with your doctor first.

Type 1 diabetes treatment in Ayurveda

Ayurvedic treatment is an ancient medical system, developed in India more than 3000 years ago. It is based on the principle that the health of the mind and body depend on three constitutions, or life forces, known as doshas.

The Ayurvedic perception of diabetes is that it’s caused by an imbalance in a person’s doshas, which leads to an imbalance in their metabolism.

Type 1 diabetes treatment in Ayurveda involves maintaining a strict diet and taking certain herbs and spices believed to reduce blood sugar levels. Yoga and meditation are also considered integral components of treating type 1 diabetes through Ayurveda. It’s believed that participating in these practices will help to create a healthy balance between mind, spirit and body, treating type 1 diabetes.

However, as there is no conclusive evidence to support Ayurvedic medicine for diabetes type 1 as a replacement for standard insulin medication it’s not recommended that you pursue it. If you’re interested in Ayurveda as a potential alternative to treat your diabetes type 1 you should always consult your doctor first.

Homeopathy treatment for diabetes type 1

Homeopathic medicine is another alternative type of treatment. It’s based on the belief that ailments can be treated by taking small doses of substances that, in larger quantities, would cause the symptoms of the original ailment.

In the case of diabetes type 1, this would mean taking small doses of substances that, in larger quantities, would cause symptoms such as excessive thirst, nausea, and numbness in the hands and feet.

Again, there’s no clear evidence that homeopathic medicine for diabetes type 1 is effective and it’s not recommended that you use it to replace standard insulin medication. If you’re interested in homeopathy as an alternative treatment for your diabetes type 1 you should always consult your doctor first.

What now - How to get started living with type 1 diabetes?

Understanding how to treat your type 1 diabetes is an important step in successfully managing the disease. However, treatment is just one part of the puzzle – You’ll need to take a more holistic approach if you want to have the best chance of leading a happy and healthy life.

You should also:

  • Manage your stress: When receiving a diabetes type 1 diagnosis, it’s normal to feel stressed, frustrated or angry. But with the right lifestyle changes and management, you can ensure your diabetes doesn’t snatch away your happiness. As stress can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, it’s critical to take time out for yourself to exercise, meditate, and practise mental self-care.
  • Get support: Having a strong support system in place can help you handle anything that would otherwise cause you distress. Maintain and nurture healthy relationships with your friends and family, and these relationships will in turn help you build your resilience, and cope with your diabetes more efficiently.
  • Keep in touch with your healthcare team: Type 1 diabetes is an ongoing, long-term disease, and can lead to the development of complications. To help avoid these complications, delay their onset, and secure early detection, it’s important to maintain contact with your healthcare team and schedule routine checkups, including for your eyes, kidneys and heart.

It’s easy, and natural, to feel overwhelmed when you first get diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. But with just a little time, living with type 1 diabetes and managing your treatment and medication will become second nature – You’ll be able to do it without having to think too hard about it, or developing any unnecessary stress.

And you’ll be able to enjoy your life, for years to come.

Frequently asked questions - Type 1 diabetes treatment

Can type 1 diabetes be cured?

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Currently, there's no cure for type 1 diabetes. However, advances in medical technology and treatment options have made it easier to manage type 1 diabetes, maintain a good quality of life, and prevent complications. Research is continuing into new treatments and potential cures for type 1 diabetes.

Can type 1 diabetes be cured with diet?

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No, type 1 diabetes can't be cured with diet. Following a healthy diet is an important part of managing type 1 diabetes, but it can't cure the disease. What it can do is help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of complications.

Can fasting cure type 1 diabetes?

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No, fasting can't cure type 1 diabetes. If you have type 1 diabetes and intend to fast, you need to monitor your blood sugar level regularly. If you’re not eating regularly, your blood sugar level may go too low, resulting in hypoglycemia.
Fasting for a long time can also cause ‘starvation ketoacidosis’. Starvation ketoacidosis is similar to diabetic ketoacidosis. It happens when you have very low amounts of glucose in your bloodstream over a long time. To get energy your body breaks down fat, releasing ketones into your blood. Ketoacidosis is a very serious condition and can cause nausea, vomiting, disorientation, coma and potentially death.

Can type 1 diabetes be reversed if caught early?

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Early diagnosis and treatment of type 1 diabetes can help prevent complications, but it can't cure or reverse the disease. Type 1 diabetes is caused by your body's immune system mistakenly attacking the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Once these cells are destroyed, your body can't produce insulin on its own, and you need to take insulin to manage your blood sugar levels.

Will type 1 diabetes be cured?

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While there currently isn't a cure for type 1 diabetes, research is continuing and advances are regularly being made in treatment and medical technology, such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMS) and insulin pumps. As research continues to progress it is hoped that a cure for type 1 diabetes will be found. Areas of research into a cure for type 1 diabetes include, among others, immunotherapy and stem cell therapy.

Do type 1 diabetics have to take insulin?

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Yes, type 1 diabetics have to take insulin. This is because their body's immune system has attacked and destroyed the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone needed to manage blood sugar levels. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream leading to high blood sugar levels, which can cause serious health problems. To compensate for the missing insulin in their bodies and keep their blood sugar level in a healthy range type 1 diabetics need to take insulin.

Can type 1 diabetics take pills instead of insulin?

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No, type 1 diabetes can't be treated with pills instead of insulin.
Type 1 diabetics have lost the ability to produce insulin, which is needed to manage blood sugar levels. They need to take insulin to make up for this. Type 2 diabetics can take pills and oral medications because their bodies are still producing some insulin. The oral medications they take are intended to increase insulin sensitivity or reduce glucose production.
Type 1 diabetics may take oral medications as well as insulin, but these medications are used in combination with insulin. They can't replace it.

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