Man using glucometer for diabetes management

Understanding the relationship between diabetes and inflammation

Medically reviewed on August 1, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Inflammation is a natural bodily response that occurs when your system perceives outside threats, like injuries or harmful agents [1]. It’s a signal that your immune system is kicking in, and although they can be uncomfortable, the attendant symptoms are usually a sign of healing.

But when you have a related health condition like diabetes, your occasional inflammation can quickly become a chronic condition. If not properly managed, inflammation can lead to a range of additional conditions and maladies, from Chron’s disease to cancer and DNA damage [2].

That’s why staying on top of your health and understanding the relationship between inflammation and diabetes is crucial to maintaining your overall wellness.

Wondering about the relationship between diabetes and inflammation? Knowing how these health conditions relate can help you understand the full picture. We’ll guide you through the common symptoms and treatments of each disease, how they overlap, and where to go next.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation occurs when your body experiences an injury or detects the presence of threats like allergens, bacteria, viruses, and other toxins that trigger an immune response [3]. Included in that response are inflammatory cells. These are special cells that your body sends rushing to the site of the wound or infection to heal the injury or kill and remove the offending substance.

As a natural immune response, inflammation is usually a positive process. Inflammatory cells work quickly and diligently to isolate and eliminate threats and restore damaged tissue.

That said, the symptoms of inflammation may not always be pleasant. Those symptoms will vary depending on the type of inflammation. There are two types:

  • Acute inflammation – Everyone is susceptible to a certain degree of acute inflammation. This refers to inflammation that’s caused by a legitimate immune response. The symptoms of acute inflammation can include tenderness or pain, swelling, skin inflammation, abnormally hot skin, and flushed skin [4].
  • Chronic inflammation – Certain medical conditions can lead to ongoing inflammation in various parts of the body, known as chronic inflammation. When you have chronic inflammation, your body produces a surplus of inflammatory cells. The symptoms can range from joint, chest, and abdominal pain, to fatigue, fever, and skin rash [5].

How is inflammation treated?

So, wondering how to reduce skin inflammation and other systemic inflammation? There are several treatments available to help patients manage the symptoms of bodily inflammation [6]. Depending on whether your inflammation is acute or chronic, the underlying causes of your inflammation, and other factors, your healthcare care provider will know how to test for inflammation and may prescribe a range of medications, therapies, and other suggestions.

If your inflammation is acute—meaning it's a valid inflammatory response to something your immune system sees as harmful—your healthcare provider may choose a non-aggressive approach to treatment. Instead of medications, your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Rest care
  • Icing problem areas
  • Taking proper care of injuries and wounds

In most cases, you should expect the symptoms of acute inflammation to resolve within a few days.

But if you have a chronic inflammatory condition, your healthcare provider will likely choose a more active approach to treating your symptoms [7]. Ongoing treatment is often required, and may include the following measures:

  • Nutritional supplements – Your healthcare provider may suggest a range of vitamins and other nutritional supplements that have been linked to fighting inflammation. Vitamins A, C, and D, and nutrients like zinc, fish oil, curcumin or turmeric, and ginger are all thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be treatment courses your healthcare provider will investigate [8].
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – Often, healthcare providers prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, to treat chronic inflammation. These over-the-counter medicines are frequently coupled with other drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen [9].
  • Steroid injections – Corticosteroid injections may be necessary to address inflammation in specific areas of the body, like joints and muscles. However, it’s recommended that you not exceed four steroid injections within a year-long period [10].

There are also steps you can take to manage inflammation outside of your healthcare provider’s office. Consuming a diet that’s rich in anti-inflammatory foods, exercising often, and moderating alcohol consumption are all excellent places to start. Weight control, stress management, and avoiding cigarettes may also be helpful.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus refers to a set of diseases that interfere with your body’s ability to process glucose, or sugar [11]. As a vital source of energy for your brain and cells, glucose is integral to proper body function. Any disruption to how your body manages glucose can have health consequences.

Each type of diabetes mellitus is indicated by elevated blood sugar levels. That said, the various types of diabetes each have their own characteristics, causes, and symptoms [12].

The four types of diabetes are:

  • Prediabetes – When you have higher blood sugar levels than normal, but aren’t quite in diabetes territory, your healthcare provider may classify you as prediabetic. Although prediabetes can develop into diabetes, it is often reversible if the underlying causes are addressed [13].
  • Gestational – Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. In most cases, the condition goes away after delivery.
  • Type 1 diabetes – In this type of chronic diabetes, the immune system attacks and kills special beta cells in the pancreas. This disrupts and eventually halts the production of insulin, a powerful hormone your body uses to regulate blood sugar levels and preserve energy from glucose [14].
  • Type 2 diabetes – In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to regulate the body’s blood glucose level, which can build up in your blood as a result. Some people with type 2 can also develop insulin resistance, which prevents the hormone from taking part in the processes it was designed to orchestrate.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Diabetes is a complicated disease, so the symptoms can vary considerably. Genetics, medical conditions and medications, ongoing lifestyle and dietary choices, and other factors can all play a part.

That said, a primary indicator of diabetes is the presence of biological byproducts known as ketones in your urine. Your body produces ketones when fat and muscle tissue break down from a lack of insulin [15].

Other diabetic symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased susceptibility to infections with long healing times

Additionally, diabetes may also affect your mood and appetite, and even make you feel thirsty [16]. Furthermore, if left untreated or managed, this could lead to more serious diabetes complications.

How is diabetes treated?

The treatment for diabetes depends on the type of diabetes you have. As mentioned above, gestational diabetes tends to go away on its own, while changes to diet and lifestyle can alter the course of prediabetes.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The good news is, there is a range of treatment options available that can make living with the disease easier:

  • Type 1 diabetes – Insulin supplementation by injection or pump is most often the way to treat type 1 diabetes. Blood sugar monitoring and restricting carbohydrate intake may also be prescribed [17].
  • Type 2 diabetes – The treatments for type 2 diabetes typically include medications, insulin, blood sugar monitoring, and lifestyle modifications [18].

What is the relationship between diabetes and inflammation?

So, what is the relationship between diabetes and inflammation?

According to the Endocrine Society, type 1 diabetes has been linked to systemic inflammation of the digestive tract and of natural bacteria in the gut [19]. Elsewhere, there’s evidence to suggest that type 1 diabetes can cause an inflammation of tissues in the pancreas [20]. Other studies link the condition to increased production of the inflammatory enzymes cytokine and cyclooxygenase [21].

Likewise, there appear to be strong ties between type 2 diabetes and inflammation. In fact, some studies suggest that inflammation plays a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, in part because it floods your system with inflammatory cytokines and other inflammation-causing agents [22].

Additionally, various studies link type 2 diabetes to a range of inflammatory conditions:

  • Inflammation of gut microbiota – Persistent, low-grade inflammation of vital bacteria in the gut can signal the onset of type 2 diabetes, according to research [23].
  • Pancreatic inflammation – Like type 1 diabetes, there’s evidence to suggest that type 2 diabetes can cause inflammation of pancreatic islet tissue [24].
  • Tissue inflammation – According to studies, a diabetes-related overproduction of inflammatory cytokines and other agents that cause inflammation has been noted in the white adipose tissue (WAT). WAT is the most prevalent kind of fat in the human body, distributed beneath the surface of the skin, inside the bones, and around organs [25].

Understand your overall health and wellness with Everlywell

When you have a medical condition like inflammation or diabetes, understanding the relationship between the two can be crucial to taking control of your health and living your life to the fullest.

At Everlywell, we believe that a healthier tomorrow starts with the steps you take today—and it starts at home. That’s why we’re committed to making it easy to take control of your health and get a glimpse into how your body works with our line of safe at-home lab tests.

The Everlywell at-home Vitamin D and Inflammation Test measures common acute inflammatory markers, giving you insight into how your body manages inflammation that you and your healthcare provider can use to figure out the best course of care for you.

How to test for inflammation: a quick guide

How to reduce skin inflammation: treatment tips

8 supplements to reduce inflammation in the body

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  1. Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  2. Chronic inflammation. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  3. Diabetes – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  4. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  5. Endocrine Society. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  6. Type 1 Diabetes: A Chronic Anti-Self-Inflammatory Response. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  7. American Diabetes Association. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  8. Type 2 diabetes as an inflammatory disease. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  9. The Role of Inflammation in Diabetes: Current Concepts and Future Perspectives. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  10. Physiological role of adipose tissue: white adipose tissue as an endocrine and secretory organ. PubMed. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
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