This is a short history of diabetes. From the times of the Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to modern day, diabetes has been present throughout our history.
Diabetes mellitus comes from the words diabetes (Greek) meaning siphon, to pass through, and mellitus (Latin) honeyed or sweet. This is a reference to the excess sugar found in the blood and urine of someone with diabetes. In the 17th century, diabetes was known as the ‘pissing evil’ because of the excessive urination and thirst.
It was first recorded in English in a medical text around 1425 though the symptoms of diabetes were recorded as far back as Ancient Egypt. In the Middle Ages, diabetes was believed to be a disease of the kidneys, but in the late 18th century they found it occurred in people who experienced an injury to the pancreas. Before proper research and treatment, when someone had symptoms of diabetes it was often thought as a death sentence as they would often die within weeks or months of symptoms appearing.
In 1889, Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski discovered the role of the pancreas in diabetes through research with dogs. They would remove the pancreases of multiple dogs and observe the symptoms of diabetes develop in the dogs before they passed away.
In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer found that diabetes was a result from a lack of insulin.
In 1919, Dr. Frederick Allen introduced a therapy of strict dieting or starvation treatment as a way to manage diabetes, not unlike the treatments that were used by others in history.
In 1921, Sir Frederick Grant Banting and Charles Herbert Best repeated the work of von Mering and Minkowski. They also gave the diabetic dogs insulin extracts from healthy dogs and found the results to be in their favor. In 1922, they purified insulin from pancreases of cows and created an effective treatment for diabetes available. This earned them a Nobel Prize in 1923.
January 1922 saw the very first patient to receive insulin injections, a 14-year-old named Leonard Thompson. He lived another 13 years before he died of pneumonia at age 27.
In 1936, Sir Harold Percival Himsworth published his work about differentiating between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
In 1982, the first biosynthetic human insulin, Humulin, was created that was identical in chemical structure to human insulin. It was mass produced and available globally.
In 1988, metabolic syndrome was discovered by Dr. Gerald Reaven. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that raises risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other health problems. Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition. It is diagnosed when any three of the following five risk factors are present:
• High blood glucose (sugar)
• Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the
• High levels of triglycerides in the blood
• Large waist circumference or “apple-shaped” body
• High blood pressure
In the centuries that diabetes has been present in human history, we as humans have come so far. In Ancient Greece, they prescribed physical activity and a change in diet, just as we do today. Where they might only have lived weeks or months with their condition, now we can survive many years and thrive with diabetes.
Perhaps someday we can find a cure to diabetes instead of preventative measures. There are many organizations around today doing research in diabetes to find a cure. You can help donate to their efforts.
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