* Diabetes Mellitus Center

 

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

In order to understand the problems involved in diabetes mellitus, it is necessary to understand something of the normal body’s metabolism.

Illustration by Wendy Brooks, DVM
Illustration by Wendy Brooks, DVM

 

The pancreas is nestled along the stomach and small intestine. It secretes digestive enzymes into the small intestine but it also secretes hormones into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar.

The cells of the body require a sugar known as glucose for food and they depend on the bloodstream to bring glucose to them. They cannot, however, absorb and utilize glucose without a hormone known as insulin. This hormone, insulin, is produced by the pancreas. Insulin is like a key that unlocks the door to separate cells from the sugars in our bloodstream.

Glucose comes from the diet. When an animal goes without food, the body must break down fat, stored starches, and protein to supply calories for the hungry cells. Proteins and starches may be converted into glucose. Fat, however, requires different processing that can lead to the production of ketones rather than glucose. Ketones are another type of fuel that the body can use in a pinch but the detection of ketones indicates that something wrong is happening in the patient’s metabolism. Ketones may therefore be detected in the urine of starving animals because of massive fat mobilization is required for ketone formation. Ketones can also be detected in diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe complication of unregulated diabetes so it is helpful to periodically monitor for ketones in a diabetic patient’s urine. The point is, for now, that in times of extreme fat burning (such as in starvation), ketones are a byproduct.

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