Diabetes and your immune system

Diabetes mellitus has far-reaching effects on the body. Known as a silent killer, diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases and one of the leading causes of death.

Diabetes affects not only the eyes, heart, kidney, and brain, but also the immune system, the body’s defense against infections. Left untreated, diabetes weakens the immune system, making an individual vulnerable to different kinds of infections. 

But how does diabetes affect the immune system?


1. Impaired immune cell function

The body’s immune cells include white blood cells, which are often “called upon” to fight off and destroy invading bugs. Uncontrolled diabetes impairs the production and maturation of these cells in the bone marrow. When this happens, there are fewer white blood cells available to fight off infections. 

Uncontrolled diabetes also affects another part of the immune system called the complement system.


2. Impaired white cell migration


When the body senses an infection, it sends white blood cells to the infection site. This migration of white blood cells to the “battle front” occurs through the tiniest of blood vessels to reach the location of infection. However, diabetes affects the ability of white blood cells to migrate to the site of infection. 

3. Good environment for bugs to thrive

Bugs love sugar, as it provides adequate energy for them to multiply and grow. In addition, excess sugar in the blood in diabetes makes the blood more acidic, which is a perfect environment for certain bugs to thrive in. 


Further, excess sugar in the blood results in the accumulation of harmful products, called free radicals. These chemicals are described as “pro-inflammatory” because they can stimulate cell damage and destruction of the body’s immune cells. 

4. Poor Blood flow

Diabetes causes the accumulation of fat plaques and clots in blood vessels. Over time, the affected blood vessels become damaged and blocked off, impairing blood flow. When blood flow is reduced to any part of the body, the flow of nutrients, oxygen, and immune cells also reduces, therefore impairing healing, repair, and the overall health of that area. This is the basis for the poor wound healing seen in people with diabetes. Wounds make it easy for bugs to enter the body. 

In summary, diabetes affects almost every part of the body, but one of its most harmful effects is on the immune system. Damage to the immune system leaves the body vulnerable to different kinds of bugs. Keep your blood sugar under good control to avoid the negative effects of diabetes. 

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