History of Diabetes: Fun Facts You Didn’t Know
Diabetes has been known about for nearly 3,000 years. But as recently as a few decades ago, managing blood sugar was difficult or impossible.
While there’s still no cure for diabetes, a look through history shows we’ve come a long way. Thanks to greater knowledge of how diabetes works and medical advances like insulin, more people are living full lives while managing their diabetes.
Discovery of diabetes
Fact: The ancient Egyptians mentioned the symptoms of diabetes in Egyptian manuscripts that date back to 1500 B.C.
Fact: It wasn’t until the 2nd Century A.D. that Aretaeus — a physician during the Greco-Roman period — introduced the term diabetes. It comes from the Greek word διαβαινω (diabaino), meaning “I pass through” (referring to diabetes in which fluid runs through the body).
Fact: Many different treatments were recommended by Greek physicians and other early scientists and doctors. Some of these included:
- Foods that were easy to digest like mutton or veal
- A “non-irritating” carb and milk diet, such as rice and milk
- Carb-free diet
- Wormseed, lupin, and fenugreek powders
Fact: Another physician recommended that people with diabetes eat a diet that was 3 percent carbs, 32 percent protein, and 65 percent fat. He also advised against eating garden produce and fruits.
Insulin and insulin resistance
Fact: Research in the late 1800s led to Jean De Meyer searching for a hormone called “insuline” in 1909. In 1916, Edward Sharpey-Shafer introduced the term “insulin” for a substance from the pancreas that was responsible for diabetes.
Fact: Leonard Thompson was the first patient to be treated with insulin in 1922. After receiving injections, his blood sugar dropped.
Fact: Sir Harold Percival Himsworth published his research in 1936 that talked about the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. He introduced the idea that many people with diabetes had insulin resistance instead of insulin deficiency.
Fact: Scientists created Humulin, the first human-based insulin, in 1978. This insulin is identical in structure to the insulin produced by the human body.
Fact: The first glucose monitors weren’t available for home use until the 1980s. They gave people with diabetes an accurate way to keep track of their blood sugar, making it easier to manage blood sugar levels.
Fact: Insulin pens became available in 1986, offering a convenient, safe way to deliver accurate doses of insulin.
Fact: In the 1990s, external insulin pumps were invented — offering easy, flexible treatment management for persons with diabetes.