What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a condition in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Insulin ensures that glucose (sugar) from your food goes into your body cells. If this does not happen, glucose remains in the blood and your blood glucose levels can rise to high levels. This shortage of insulin is caused by the body destroying its own insulin-producing cells due to an incorrect autoimmune response.

People with type 1 diabetes are therefore dependent on administered insulin. This can be done via an injection, or an insulin pump that you must carry with you. Individuals with type 1 diabetes cannot live without regularly administered insulin to allow glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter body cells. Type 1 diabetes usually starts at a young age, but it can develop at any age. You can test yourself for type 1 diabetes with a test that measures your average blood sugar (HbA1c) over the past 3 months.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

How exactly type 1 diabetes develops is still largely a mystery. Heredity and predisposition may have something to do with its cause, but are not the only factors. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why type 1 diabetes occurs.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

There are several symptoms that may indicate type 1 diabetes. These are:

  • Losing weight for no apparent reason
  • Extreme thirst
  • Having to pee often
  • Blurred vision
  • Being more prone to illness
  • Being very hungry or not at all
  • Being tired often

What should you not eat with type 1 diabetes?

People living with type 1 diabetes can eat most things as long as their blood sugar levels remain in check. However, having a healthy and balanced diet without excess carbs ensures that your blood glucose levels remain stable. Regardless of diet, the amount of insulin administered must be well matched to the number of carbohydrates and/or sugary products you eat. Some people with type 1 diabetes can eat as many carbohydrates as people without the disease while in others this is not possible. Consult your doctor or a dietitian for advice on how to build a diet that keeps your blood sugar stable.

For anyone with type 1 diabetes, general nutrition tips include:

  • Eat plenty of fiber. Fiber ensures a slower rise in blood glucose levels.
  • Limit your intake of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, rice, or white pasta.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and added sugars. These can cause spikes and fluctuations in your blood glucose levels.
  • Do not drink more than 1 glass of alcohol per day.
  • Eat oily fish once a week.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fats.

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

Unlike type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin. However, their body does not respond well to it. This is also known as insulin resistance. As a result, the body does not obtain enough glucose from the blood and blood sugar levels rise. Obesity, genetics and old age are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. For this reason, type 2 diabetes is often referred to as a disease of affluence. It is expected that by 2040 more than 71.1 million adults will have type 2 diabetes in Europe thousands of whom do not know they have it. This is why it is important to regularly test for type 2 diabetes even without obvious symptoms. 

Most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you will usually initially receive nutritional and exercise advice. The use of insulin is usually not immediately necessary. Type 1 diabetes has far more consequences for your life and requires immediate treatment. That is why it is important to recognize the symptoms in time and to test yourself with a diabetes test if you suspect it.

Can type 1 diabetes be prevented?

No. Type 1 diabetes is a form of diabetes that anyone can get. Whether you get it or not has nothing to do with your lifestyle. It can be triggered by, for example, a virus.

Is type 1 diabetes serious?

If type 1 diabetes is not diagnosed in time and/or is not treated correctly, the consequences can be serious. For example, the retinae of your eyes, kidneys, and nerves and blood vessels in your legs can be damaged. Type 1 diabetes can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

What is the life expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes?

The life expectancy of a person aged 45 with type 1 diabetes is on average 13 years lower than that of a person without diabetes. As people get older, there is still a difference in life expectancy, but it decreases. The chance of dying prematurely for people between the ages of 45 and 60 with type 1 diabetes is about five times greater than for people without diabetes (RIVM, 2021).