The body has a fabulous security system – always on the prowl looking for foreign invaders. Once the invader has been detected, the security forces rush in, to subdue the invader and ultimately destroy it.
But in diabetics the immune system seems to struggle with unmotivated and/or incompetent staff. Overcoming infections is a big problem. Diabetics are susceptible to chronic infections as well as cancer. (Cancer happens because your immune system fails to remove defective damaged cells).
Security forces look for “wrong” sugars
One of the main ways that the immune system recognizes foreign invaders, is by looking at the sugars expressed on the surface of the cell.
The security guard carries a set of special proteins, called a C-type lectins, which recognizes specific sugars. The MBL one, recognizes mannose – a sugar that is found in cell walls of bacteria and fungi.
Mannose does occur in our bodies but it never floats around in the blood. So when a mannose is “spotted”, this acts as a red flag, since it is not normal, alerting the immune system to the presence of an invader of some kind.
Security forces can’t tell the wood from the trees
Researchers at University of Warwick suggest that the problem in diabetics is not apathetic staff, but confused staff. The security guards struggle to see the wrong sugars.
When sugar levels (glucose) are within the normal range, it is relatively easy to spot the wrong sugars, because they stick out like a sore thumb. As soon as suspect sugar is spotted, the immune system is able to launch evasive manoeuvres and eliminate the owner of the wrong sugar.
When sugar levels are too high, the fundamental problem in diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, it becomes significantly harder to actually spot aberrant sugars. All the cells are smothered with sugars. So when the security guards carry out routine surveillance, they often miss cells bearing wrong sugars.
Early detection critical for good immune response
Missing the invader means that it has an opportunity to penetrate further and get up to a lot of mischief.
It is a lot harder to fight tens of thousands of bacteria than one or two. So the immune system is put under increased pressure to perform, often resulting in BIG BAD infections.
Help your security guards
Diabetics are encouraged to keep their sugar levels within normal ranges to avoid some of the nasty complications of being diabetic. The biggest worry is usually damage to blood vessels which ultimately results in cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.
But blind siding the immune system means the body is vulnerable to attack, from outside through viral, bacterial and fungal infections and from inside, through cancer.
Help your immune system work better – keep the sugar levels in check.
PS. The secret is to limit your carbohydrate intake.High glucose disrupts oligosaccharide recognition function via competitive inhibition: A potential mechanism for immune dysregulation in diabetes mellitus. Immunobiology (2011) 216(1-2):126-131. Mitchell et al.
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