Diabetes And Its Impact On The Immune System & Vice Versa

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Thu, 29 February 2024


Sugar and spice, and everything nice - sounds like a perfect combination. But not if you have diabetes - sugar can be a deadly substance. The life of a diabetic is riddled with diet restrictions, exercise regimes, and lots more. Living with diabetes comes with its own set of challenges. Not only this, but it is also a condition that leads to lowered immunity. Now you might have a couple of questions regarding this correlation and what to do about it. Read on to get a deeper understanding of the same.

What happens in diabetes?

Let us start with knowing more about the condition itself. Diabetes, as we know, is a chronic condition where your blood sugar (glucose) levels are higher than normal. Blood glucose is our main source of energy. Our body's pancreas produces a substance called insulin, which helps the glucose enter the cells. In diabetes, enough insulin isn't produced, or your body cannot utilise the insulin well. Hence, the glucose stays outside the cells and in the blood. This is the reason why blood glucose levels are high in diabetics.

How does this affect your immunity?

Now, we know that diabetes means high blood sugar levels. Let us see how this affects our immune mechanisms.

  • Firstly, high blood sugar allows bacteria to grow and infections to develop quickly. Guess we're not the only ones with a bit of a sweet tooth!
  • It hampers the production of important chemicals called cytokines, which act against pathogens.
  • It prevents White Blood Cells (WBCs) from doing their job, which are our body's warriors against invading pathogens.
  • Certain proteins called receptors are important to locate pathogens hiding in our body. In the case of poorly controlled diabetes, these receptors are scarce, thus lowering the immune response.
  • High blood sugar also causes defects in our Natural Killer Cells. These are a part of our defence mechanism involved in killing invading pathogens.

Hence, high blood glucose levels seen in diabetics can harm the immune response in multiple ways.

Besides this, people with diabetes for a long time have other complications, e.g., nerve damage, which can increase the chances of infections.

What things warrant your attention?

There are certain infections commonly seen in diabetics. Let's have a look at these.

  • Ear, nose, and throat infections: Fungal infections of the nose and throat are seen almost exclusively in patients with diabetes.
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Uncontrolled diabetes is one of the major causes of UTIs.
  • Skin and soft tissue infections: People with diabetes are at risk for infections along with wounds in the leg (also called diabetic foot).

How to boost your immunity?

When it comes to the immunity of diabetics, you can do a few things to minimise your chances of contracting infections.

  • Start with embracing a healthy lifestyle. Eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and follow your doctor's advice on medications and other aspects.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene and sanitary practices.
  • Wear good, soft, and covered footwear with clean socks.
  • Stay up to date with all your vaccinations.

Diabetes does not have to take over your life. With a few preventive measures and precautions, you can control your diabetes and not let it be the other way round.


Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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  1. What is Diabetes? Available from: Niddk. Accessed on 4 May 2021.
  2. Berbudi A, et al. Type 2 Diabetes and its impact on the immune system. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2020;16(5):442-449.

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