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What is Sugar Diabetes?


Updated January 30, 2012

Question: What is Sugar Diabetes?

If you are reading this, chances are someone may have asked if you have sugar diabetes. Perhaps even a doctor diagnosed you with it. Before you brush them off as naive, consider that diabetes has been around since ancient times and has appeared in just about every culture. Until terms were standardized, diabetes could be called just about anything.

Basically, "sugar diabetes" is an older name for "diabetes mellitus" which is the broad term under which type 1 and type 2 diabetes are categorized under. The term was used to identify disease where sugar levels were abnormally high.

Although "diabetes" was coined by an ancient Greek physician and "mellitus" by an English doctor in the 1600's, the term "diabetes mellitus" wasn't instantly adopted by everyone all over the world. It still isn't.

"Diabetes mellitus" and the original terms used to describe type 1 and type 2 diabetes were not widely-accepted standard classifications for diabetes until the 1980's. "Type 1" and "type 2" did not become the accepted standard terms until relatively recently.

In a 2001 study, researchers asked 423 subjects what terms they preferred to use for diabetes. The terms "sugar diabetes," "sugar," or "high sugar" were preferred by 11.7% of the subjects. I recently come across a U.S. study from 2001 that used the term "sugar diabetes" instead of "diabetes mellitus."

Most of the time people who use the term "sugar diabetes" are older and may have parents who were immigrants from other countries. The phrase is sometimes still used in rural communities (used by country doctors) and in some minority communities such as some southern African-American communities.

People in other countries have identified diabetes with words in their own languages. Translated into English, the terms include: "I have sugar," "sugar trouble," "sugar problem," "sugar disease," "sugar sickness," "sugar," "the sugar," "have the sugars," "sweet blood." Many of these terms are still in use in other countries. When foreign speakers translate them into English to identify diabetes, they can appear quite simple or funny.

Before we start to feel superior about our more elegant term for diabetes, let's translate "diabetes mellitus" into English. "Diabetes" is a Greek word that means "one that straddles" or goes to the bathroom a lot. The Latin term "mellitus" means "honey" or honey taste. So translated, our word for diabetes becomes "one who pees a lot of honey-tasting urine." Maybe that will make you think twice before laughing at "sugar diabetes."

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