History of Diabetes

Diabetes: It’s Origin
Diabetes is a chronic disease that claims many lives each year. It is a malfunction of the metabolism of the body, that is, it is a slow poison that leads to chain of various kinds of threatening diseases. For a very long time it has apparently plagued man, as the writings from the earliest civilizations (Asia Minor, China, Egypt, and India) refer to boils and infections, excessive thirst, loss of weight, and the passing of large quantities of honeysweet urine which often drew ants and flies.

The term ‘diabetes’ is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘siphon’ which refers to the passing through of water, because the fluid does not remain in the body, but uses the man’s body as a ladder whereby to leave it; while ‘mellitus’ is a Latin word referring honeysweet. For example, the Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document, written by physician Hesy-Ra in 1552 B.C., recommended that those affected with the disease go on a diet of bear, fruits, grains, and honey, which was reputed to stifle the excessive urination (polyuria). Indian writings from the same era attributed the disease to overindulgence in food and drink.

Diabetes and diet
Accounts of the diets of the middle class in northern European countries during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries described consuming meals consisting of many courses of roast meats dripping with fat, rich and sugary pastries, and plenty of butter and cream, but little coarse red or green, leafy vegetables ultimately led to diabetes. So, during this period doctors had to taste the urine of patients for sweetness in order to detect the disease. Soon, there emerged two schools of thought concerning diets.

One school believed in dietary replacement of the sugar lost in the urine, while the other believed in restriction of carbohydrate because carbohydrate restriction would reduce the effects which were attributed to an excess of sugar. The first school was exemplified by the British physician Willis, who, in 1675, recommended a diet limited to milk, barley water, and bread. This kind of diet was high in carbohydrate, but low in calories.

A long lasting fad started towards high-fat, high-protein, and low carbohydrate diets by prescribing mainly meat and fat in 1797. Because various writers referred diabetes as a disease of the blood, kidneys, liver, or stomach, none of the physicians of those times knew much about the nature of the abnormality. Nevertheless, some of the patients appeared to have been helped by the diets that were prescribed as evidenced by reductions in the amounts of sugar spilled in the urine.

The most effective therapy to control diabetes have been the restriction of the caloric intake, since the French physician Bouchardat observed that the limited availability of food in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to 1871 resulted in marked reduction in the sugar spilled by his diabetic patients.