One of the first things people ask after being diagnosed with a chronic condition is: can it be cured? In the case of Type 1 Diabetes, a cure does not exist yet, unfortunately. The condition can only be managed with insulin, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. However, researchers are now working on treatments to reverse or cure the condition, so that people affected by it can live healthy lives without any complications associated with diabetes. Let’s find out more about it.
Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic condition where the beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly attacked and destroyed by your body’s immune system. Beta cells are responsible for producing the hormone insulin, which is essential for glucose uptake and metabolism in your cells. The destruction of beta cells results in little to no insulin production in your body, leading to high blood glucose (sugar) levels.
The treatment strategies for Type 1 Diabetes include insulin administration, and management consists of dietary changes, regular exercise, and frequent blood glucose monitoring.
At present, insulin is the only medication available to treat Type 1 Diabetes. Regular human insulin is a synthetically produced hormone, which is chemically similar to the insulin produced naturally by the pancreas. You may need to take insulin several times a day or as prescribed by your doctor to keep your blood sugar levels in check.
The dosage of insulin you need to take can vary based on your carbohydrate intake and your physical activity levels. Consult with your primary healthcare team to determine the dosage of insulin you need to take.
Your diet plays a crucial role in managing your blood sugar levels. A balanced diet with essential macro and micronutrients can help you avoid complications associated with Type 1 Diabetes. Including food from all the major groups like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, dairy, beans, legumes, etc., in your diet in the right amounts can help you get all the essential nutrients you need.
Avoid foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates, saturated fats, and added sugars, as well as foods that are overly processed as they can worsen your glycaemic control.
Regular physical activity is an important factor in Type 1 Diabetes management. Exercising regularly can help keep your blood sugar levels in control and avoid diabetes-related complications like heart disease, stroke, obesity, etc. It can also boost your energy, help you sleep better, relieve stress, and improve your mood and mental well-being.
Note that exercise can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. Hence, it is very important to take precautions like carefully planning the time and duration of your workouts, having a carbohydrate-rich snack handy, monitoring your blood glucose levels before, during and after your workout sessions, etc. in order to avoid hypoglycaemic or hyperglycaemic episodes.
The goal of Type 1 Diabetes management is to bring your blood glucose levels back down to a relatively normal range where it does not cause any health issues. Hence, monitoring and recording your blood glucose levels can help your doctor devise your treatment plan accordingly.
Daily blood glucose monitoring can also help you adjust your insulin dosage and carbohydrate intake, and detect any spikes or dips in blood sugar levels so you can take corrective measures to avoid complications.
Monitoring your blood glucose levels is easy and can be done from the comfort of your home using a glucometer, flash glucose monitoring system and continuous glucose monitoring system.
Currently, it is not possible to prevent or cure Type 1 Diabetes. However, research is ongoing to develop strategies that can prevent, cure or reverse Type 1 Diabetes.
This strategy includes transplanting the whole healthy pancreas or parts of it (called the islets) into a Type 1 Diabetic from matching donors. Pancreas or islet transplantation can be an effective treatment option for restoring insulin production in Type 1 Diabetics.
However, in order to prevent your immune system from attacking the newly transplanted healthy pancreatic cells and to preserve insulin production, you will have to take immunosuppressant medications for the rest of your life, which can have serious side effects.
This treatment approach also has several other drawbacks like high cost, insufficient availability of donor pancreases, higher chances of rejection of the transplant, etc. which limit its availability to the wider population.
This strategy focuses on generating new insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas through gene therapy or medications. Several ongoing studies are trying to regenerate beta cells endogenously (within the body) in the following ways to restore insulin production:
This strategy focuses on creating replacement beta cells or pancreatic islets through stem cell therapy or 3D bioprinting. These synthetically generated healthy beta cells or islets are then transplanted into the body of a Type 1 Diabetic, where they function and produce insulin normally.
This strategy focuses on developing new proteins or compounds that can protect your beta cells from your immune system. This approach can also be combined with beta cell regeneration or transplantation to protect the new, healthy cells.
Research is ongoing on identifying and developing proteins that can form a protective capsule around functioning pancreatic cells that can shield them from the inflammation and damage caused by your immune system.
This approach can eliminate the need for immunosuppressant drugs in Type 1 Diabetics that may undergo pancreas transplantation or beta-cell replacement.
This strategy focuses on stopping your immune system from attacking your pancreatic beta cells. This can be achieved by developing a vaccine, reprogramming your immune system, or identifying and killing the autoantibodies (cells that attack your own body) that attack your pancreas.
Research in this field is ongoing, and can be a promising strategy for both prevention and cure of Type 1 Diabetes if successful. Immunotherapy can be useful in preventing the onset of Type 1 Diabetes in high-risk individuals who have autoantibodies, as well as protecting beta cell function in people who receive healthy transplanted pancreatic cells.
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