When you truly know a person, you know how he thinks and you can predict his actions. When you truly know yourself, you understand the ebbs and flows of your moods and passions. But a disease like diabetes throws a wrench in this. Your body begins to do things that are alien. You don’t feel like yourself.
We researchers and health care professionals use scientific knowledge to create therapies and predict disease outcomes. For the non-scientist, however, understanding the science behind the disease is every bit as useful. Scientific understanding is, as it was in ancient magic traditions, the act of identifying the true name of the thing. If you know a disease’s true name, that is, if you comprehend it, you know how it will behave and you will understand exactly why you feel the way you do. You can replace the fear and worry about your symptoms with understanding. Knowledge gives you power over your condition.
Disease doesn’t just rob you of your health, it also robs you of your dignity, which so often is wrapped up with capability. Heart disease and asthma can seriously decrease one’s physical abilities. Depression and epilepsy can likewise decrease one’s mental abilities. Diabetes, however, is different. While there are several forms of diabetes (each its own very unique disease), ultimately, no form of diabetes has to limit a patient. Managing diabetes comes down to an enforced healthy lifestyle. If a diabetic keeps his blood glucose levels in the acceptable range, apart from the (considerable) hassle of drug dosing, the disease will have almost no consequence. Unfortunately, failure to adhere to that healthy lifestyle can lead to significant consequences like blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and heart disease, to name a few. But we can fight them and we can do this with the tools at hand.
It is an easy thing to say “we can fight them”. Actually doing it is altogether different. It requires an almost religious commitment and discipline. Finding time to exercise when the kids need to be taken to seven different events, and finding time to cook a healthy meal when you can’t even find time to shop, is a huge issue. Understanding the science of diabetes will not give you the extra time you need to get on the elliptical trainer, but it will give you the knowledge of exactly what needs to be done and what is superfluous. At least we scientists would like to think so.
The body, like all aspects of nature, is an incredibly beautiful thing. It is the appreciation of the beauty buried within the complexity that draws us biologists to continuously circle it, attempting but never achieving union. To understand diabetes we need to understand the body as a whole and I would claim that this act alone is worth the trouble.