Diabetic History

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Diabetes Mellitus has been a matter of scientific research for over a thousand years, perhaps even longer. The disease derived its name from two sources. From the Greek word for siphon came diabetes and from the Latin word for honey came Mellitus.

For centuries physicians have understood that diabetics had too much sugar in their urine, however at that time they had no way, other than to actually 'taste' the urine to ascertain whether it contained sugar. It was usually the unpleasant duty of the physician's assistant to actually taste the urine to check the sugar content and report back to the physician who would than prescribe treatment. It was not until the 1800's that sufficient progress was made when it became possible to test urine with chemicals.

However, the connection between diet and diabetes was not established until 1870, when during the Franco German war, a French physician named Apollinaire Bouchardt discovered that a number of his patients, who were previously known to have consistently high levels of sugar in their urine, began to show reduced sugar levels. He was smart enough to rightly attribute this improvement to the reduced food supplies during the war, which resulted in the inadvertant lowering of sugar levels in their urine.

This provoked an increased number of experiments, including experiments on animal, in an effort to ascertain which foods worked as part of the treatment of diabeties. In 1908 George Zuclzer was the first to take fluid from the pancreas of one human and injected it into another. This experiment made the patient very ill but he was in fact on the right track.

Experiments continued until in 1920 when Frederick Banting, a Canadian scientist together with a team of scientists injected fluid taken from the pancreas of one dog and injected it into another dog which had its pancreas removed. As a result the dog's glucose levels came under control and remained so as long as the injections continued.

Progress in the field of diabetic treatments continued to move on and in 1922 a young Canadian teenager, Leonard Thompson became the first human to be given insulin. The experimental substance was made up from the extracts of the pancreas of a cow. He had an allergic reaction to the first dose causing further doses to be abandoned.

However, determined not to give up they persisted with further test and eventually twelve days later a further dose was given which was highly successful, eradicating all signs of diabetes in Thompson. As one might expect, this caused an explosion in the production of insulin in an effort to meet the demand.

Whilst highly successful results were achieved using injectable insulin, experiments continued to search for an oral alternative, the first of which was developed in 1927 by a German company. However, this proved unsuccessful and it was not until many years later, in the 1950's, that the first effective oral medication was produced.

Efforts to make the life of the diabetic less complex continued, becoming high on the list of priorities which has resulted in the development of home testing kits in the 1960's giving diabetics more control over the treatment of the disease, and in the 1970's, blood glucose testing kits were developed enabling diabetes to simply prick their finger to test the level of glucose in their blood. Portable pumps have also been developed which makes it possible for insulin to be delivered automatically.

Strides are continuing to be made to improve the effectiveness of insulin whilst readily available in many doctors surgeries is information on various diabetic counselling services and support groups, which is commonly available in many areas, a resource that is open and available to diabetics and their families.

Insulin is an absolute requirement of all animal life, to which humans are a part and today a wealth of knowledge has been accumulated around the disease and its treatment. With this knowledge, it is generally understood that with the correct balance of diet, exercise and insulin, it is possible for diabetics to live full and active lives.

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