A Timeline of Diabetes
Last updated: September 2023
As we sit in a space of rapidly moving events, it can be difficult to remember where we came from. As medical, technological, and societal evolution accelerates daily, today’s discoveries become antiquated by an unclear but progressive tomorrow. This community hosts a variety of people with diabetes, who have experienced the change of management over the years and also many who wonder what tomorrow might hold.
The history of type 2 diabetes
This is a chronology of diabetes, with hopes of educating and encouraging those who appreciate history as a map for the future.
Humans are phenomenal at observing and organizing their perception. Papyrus dated to 1550 BCE, has shown us that ancient Egyptians recorded the web of symptoms that corresponds to what we identify as diabetes today.1 While there was not recorded pathogenesis of diabetes, there were recorded remedies, which suggested that low blood sugar was more commonly treated.
Since the ancient Egyptians, India has contributed to literature describing diet and sedentary lifestyle as associations with the disease as early as 5th century AD. It is most notable that the word 'diabetes' was given to the disease by Araetus of Cappodocia; it is the Greek word for ‘to run through or siphon’.1 Sometime around the year 1000 CE, there was an accurate description of the pathogenesis and the complications associated with what we now still refer to as diabetes, made by Avicenna, an Arabian physician.
Invention of insulin
Early treatment of diabetes from a western medicine standpoint was to limit sugar and weigh out food to manage blood sugar. However, in 1922, Frederick Banting’s concoction of ground beef pancreas and slightly acidic alcohol (filtered of course) was administered, with the result of a 14-year-old diabetic boy’s blood sugar declining. With only a sterile abscess as a side effect, this marked the begging of insulin, though it wasn’t until 1936 that PZI or 'protamine zinc insulin’ became commercially available. This was lifesaving for type 1 diabetics, who would have been terminally-ill prior.2
Today, insulin is not the only option for pharmaceutical management of diabetes. In fact, there are 11 different categories of blood glucose-managing medications.2 Each medication has its own origin story and its own method of manipulating physiology to manage blood sugars in patients. However, that’s an article for another time and there are new management trends emerging as well.
One thing that we have learned over the years is that there are many things that contribute to diabetes. Diabetes management has become as complex as our understandings of how it works at this point with numerous ways of managing chronic illness; with and without medications. Different people use various methods of managing. Diet, exercise, eating schedules, medication, and more, are used with and without one-another to manage diabetes by millions of people. One thing is clear, everyone is different and with a variety of people, comes a variety of options.
What we can expect in the future?
Something that every diabetes educator is asked and every person with diabetes wants to know: when will there be a cure? The truth is, no one knows at this point. However, that doesn’t mean that the future is unpredictable or solemn. It’s clear that diabetes is a personal condition, influenced by who you are physically, culturally, and medically. So I believe that the future of diabetes management will rest in progressively personalized medicine; designed by you and your entirety, for you. That is my opinion, of course, but when considering the history, I am hopeful.
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