Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To put this in perspective, this is around 10% of the US population! Of those suffering from diabetes, about 95% have type 2 diabetes, while the others endure an autoimmune condition called type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system attacks the pancreatic beta cells or enzymes within the pancreas, reducing their ability to produce and secrete insulin. Type 1 diabetics must inject insulin to regulate their blood sugar because their bodies can’t make enough. But it turns out that type 1 diabetics are not the only ones with an out-of-whack immune system.
1. Autoimmunity in Type 2 Diabetes
What many people don’t know is that type 2 diabetics have an increased risk of autoimmunity, which can unknowingly interfere with treatment. If autoimmunity occurs alongside poor blood glucose management, it means worsening symptoms, chronic inflammation, and a disease progression that spirals out of control.
A growing number of diabetics are suffering from the autoimmune condition now referred to as LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes of adults).
It’s thought to occur because chronic inflammation leads to insulin resistance and diabetes, which increases inflammation and eventually triggers an immune system imbalance to the point where the immune system can no longer recognize the difference between healthy cells and foreign invaders.
When this happens, the body begins to produce antibodies against its own tissues. An antibody is a protein that the immune system produces to recognize and fight foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria that could harm health.
Antibodies have memory, so once they’ve identified a perpetrator, they remember it so that if it invades again, they can fight it more quickly and efficiently.
2. The 2 Most Common Autoantibodies Working against Type 2 Diabetics
GAD autoantibodies – GAD is an enzyme involved in the production of neurotransmitter GABA, but it’s made in the pancreatic beta cells, just like insulin. When this enzyme becomes the target of the immune system, beta cells are destroyed. This is most often linked to type 1 diabetes but has been shown to also occur in up to 12% of type 2 diabetics.
Insulin autoantibodies (IAAs) – In a recent study, 26% of type 2 diabetics were found to have this antibody. This means that your body is attacking and destroying the actual insulin hormone. You can imagine how hard it must be for your body to maintain insulin, even if you’re injecting it, if the immune system launches an attack on each molecule.
3. Are You At Risk?
While most conventional doctors aren’t looking for autoimmune conditions in their type 2 diabetic patients, they should be. If autoimmunity goes untreated, mounting damage will continue within the body, leading to symptoms that are less and less manageable or reversible.
However, by identifying underlying autoimmune conditions and creating individualized therapies that target the immune system, type 2 diabetics can make incredible improvements by healing the underlying inflammatory causes of diabetes! This is the approach that I take every day with my patients and the reasons that I see such promising results. It is not uncommon for my patients to leave their medications behind and overcome high blood sugar altogether. In part 2, I will cover the basics for how to identify and treat autoimmune conditions related to type 2 diabetes so you, too, can tackle the root of type 2 diabetes.