The History of Diabetes

Diabetes is a long-lasting health condition that affects the human body's transformation of food into energy. The human body typically converts food into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream. If in a situation where the amount of sugar in the human body increases, insulin is released from the pancreas. This happens so that the sugar can be stored in the body cells as energy. If a person has diabetes, it means enough insulin is not produced, or the insulin is not released as much as it needs to be. This further causes the glucose to stay in the bloodstream longer. This situation can cause severe health conditions such as kidney disease, loss of sight, or heart ailment.

There exist three categories of diabetes which are termed type-1 diabetes, type-2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. The type mentioned above diabetes is discussed in detail in the following article.

  • Type-1 diabetes − occurs when the human body either produces very little insulin or does not produce the insulin as all in the pancreas. This type of diabetes is usually found in people between the ages of 13-19. The common symptoms include fatigue, sweating, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Type-2 diabetes − This type of condition occurs when the human body does not produce the required amount of insulin in the pancreas. This type of diabetes can happen to people of any age. Sometimes the person with this type of diabetes does not feel any symptoms. In other cases, some general symptoms include thirst, hunger, frequent urination, poor healing of wounds in the body, and blurriness in vision.

  • Gestational diabetes − This type of condition occurs among pregnant women. Women who have this type of diabetes during their pregnancy have a high risk of suffering from type-2 diabetes in the future. This type of diabetes also sometimes does not have any symptoms. The only method of finding if a woman has this type of diabetes is by doing a simple test.

History of Diabetes

People use "diabetes" as an acronym, but the correct name for this condition is "diabetes mellitus." "Diabetes mellitus" comes from the Greek word "diabetes," which means "to cross," and the Latin word "mellitus," which means "sweet honey" or "sweet."

During the time of Memphis, about 250 BC, Apollonius came up with the word "diabetes." In 1675, Thomas Willis added the word "Mellitus" to the word "diabetes." The reason the comment was added was that urine has a sweet taste. Early civilizations like the Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians all wrote about things that tasted sweet.

Galen, a Roman doctor from long ago, wrote about diabetes. He also said that the doctor had only seen it in two people. So, if you compare the number of people who had this disease to those who have it now, it was rare back then.

The famous Indian doctor Sushruta wrote about diabetes in his book Samhita in the fifth century BC. He used the word "madhumeha," which means "honey-like urine." The doctor also said that the urine of his diabetic patients tasted sweet, felt sticky, and attracted bugs. It was also noted that this condition was caused by eating cereals, rice, and sweets.

In the 800s, doctors noticed that people with diabetes symptoms also tended to get skin infections like rodent ulcers, furuncles, and problems with their eyesight. In his book El-Kanun, written in the 11th century AD, the famous doctor Avicenna (980-1037) talked about the effects of diabetes. He said diabetes could cause gangrene and sexual problems (Canon of Medicine).

People thought the kidneys caused diabetes in the Middle Ages. In the 1800s, people believed that an English doctor had said that diabetes was caused by an infection of the pancreas, not the kidneys.

Matthew Dobson proved in 1776 that people with diabetes had sweet-tasting urine. He also said that diabetes is a long-term disease that can kill some people but stay with others for a long time. This is one of the most important differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

In 1889, Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski decided that the pancreas had something to do with the development of diabetes. When the pancreas was taken out of a dog, they found that the dog had all the signs and symptoms of diabetes. Also, it died soon after because of the disease.

In the 1800s, no facts showed how common diabetes was. There was no practical way to treat the long-term illness. Because there was no treatment, most people who got sick died within a few weeks or months of their first signs.

Sir Edward Albert SharpeySchafer found out in 1910 that diabetes is caused by insufficient insulin. He coined the word "insulin" to describe a chemical that helps keep blood sugar in check. Insulin is a short word for the Latin word "insula," which is the name of the island. This is because the islets in the Langerhans area of the pancreas make insulin.

In 1919, Dr Frederick Allen of the Rockefeller Institute in New York published "Total Dietary Guidelines in the Treatment of Diabetes," which said that starvation and a strict diet plan were the best ways to treat diabetes.

At the University of Toronto in 1922, scientists Sir Frederick Grant Banting and Charles Herbert Best and chemist Collip purified the hormone insulin, which had been taken from the pancreas of cows. This was a big step forward because it was an excellent way to treat diabetes.


To date, there does not exist any exact cure for any mentioned types of diabetes. But with many technological advancements with time, it is very much possible to find a cure for diabetes in the future. The only solution currently available is taking medications according to one’s requirements. According to a CDC report, over 34.2 million people worldwide have diabetes with any of the given types. Out of these, around 26.9 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, and the remaining people were undiagnosed but with symptoms.

Updated on: 02-Feb-2023


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