Sugar Diabetes - An Older Term for a Current Disease
Let’s take a brief glimpse into the history behind the term diabetes.
As of 2024, more than 37.5 million people are living with diabetes in the United States. This number continues to grow in large part due to health crises in America that contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes, most notably a frightening rise in instances of obesity, particularly in children and young adults, brought on by poor dietary habits and a lack of physical activity.
Anyone who has been living with diabetes long enough understands that the disease revolves around the gradual buildup of excess sugar in the bloodstream. In cases of Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disorder, this happens because the body attacks and destroys its beta cells, which are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone necessary for the body to transform blood sugar into energy. In cases of Type 2 diabetes, the body can produce insulin. However, it cannot have enough of the hormone, or the body cannot properly use the insulin it produces to effectively turn blood sugar into energy.
In either instance, blood sugar eventually builds up in the bloodstream leading to a diabetes diagnosis. That’s the science. But where did the term “diabetes” come from, and more specifically, how did the term diabetes mellitus, the now-common descriptor for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, originate? In this post, we’ll give you a quick rundown of the origin story.
After all, if you’re living with diabetes, you might as well be aware of its history.
How long has diabetes been around?
Would it surprise you to hear that diabetes has been around for about as long as humans have recorded history? Seriously! Which means it was probably around long before the symptoms were officially recorded.
It’s believed the first known mention of the symptoms of diabetes was chronicled in 1552 BC by an Egyptian physician named Hesy-Ra. More importantly, we know that in 250 BC, the Greek physician Apollonius of Memphis coined the term diabetes.
That’s right, it was thousands of years ago that the term diabetes was coined, and here’s how that happened.
Diabetes is an ancient Greek word
It might sound like a modern scientific term, but diabetes is thousands of years old. In ancient Greece, it was used to describe a large discharge of urine or frequent urination. Being that frequent urination is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes, the word became used to describe the disease.
What about Mellitus?
Mellitus is a Latin term for “honey tasting or sugary.” Believe it or not, physicians noticed that dogs were drawn to some people’s urine in ancient China and Japan. The urine tasted sweet (yeah, they tasted it). As you’ve probably guessed, the reason it was sweet was because these individuals were diabetic and, therefore, had high levels of glucose in their urine that the body was desperately trying to expel through the urinary tract.
In the 1600s, an English physician coined mellitus, but it wasn’t until centuries later, in the 1980s, that the term diabetes mellitus became widely accepted. Until recently, Type 1 and Type 2 were used as standard ways to differentiate diabetes.
This brings us to Sugar Diabetes
So, what in the heck is sugar diabetes? Essentially, sugar diabetes is an old and outdated term for diabetes mellitus that was coined based on the excess sugar that the body carries and expels through the urine. The term was commonly used in the 1950s through the 1970s before diabetes mellitus was widely adopted to describe the condition.
The term sugar diabetes was likely derived from colloquial terms used to describe diabetes by immigrants who arrived in America with their ways of expressing it in their native languages. Interestingly, all these phrases had one thing in common when translated into English. They all revolved around the concept of sugar.
Sugar problem. Sugar trouble. Sugar disease. Sweet blood. Sugar sickness. Even phrases like “I have the sugars” were used to describe diabetes in a variety of languages.
Thus, the term sugar diabetes was born.
Those who are familiar with the term today tend to be older individuals who might have parents who were immigrants during the days when sugar diabetes was commonly used. You won’t find the term bantered about very often anymore, but it’s always wise to know your diabetes history. We hope you found this quick look back in time interesting.