Did Diabetes Exist in Ancient Times?

Diabetes, a chronic medical condition that affects the body’s ability to process sugar, is unfortunately becoming more common in modern times. With the rise of processed foods and sedentary lifestyles, it’s easy to assume that diabetes is a modern disease.

However, did diabetes exist in ancient times? Let’s explore the history of diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

Before we dive into the history of diabetes, let’s first understand what diabetes is. Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body processes glucose (sugar) in your blood. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use glucose for energy. Without insulin, glucose stays in your bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to properly process glucose. This can also lead to high blood sugar levels over time.

The History of Diabetes

Now that we understand what diabetes is, let’s explore its history.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when diabetes was discovered as medical knowledge wasn’t as advanced in ancient times as it is today. However, there are some references to symptoms of diabetes in ancient texts.

In Ancient Egypt around 1550 BCE, there are descriptions of a disease called “too great emptying of urine” which could potentially be related to diabetes symptoms such as frequent urination and increased thirst.

Similarly, in Ancient Greece around 150 CE, physician Aretaeus described a disease called “diarrhea of the urine” which could also be related to symptoms of diabetes.

Fast forward to medieval times and physicians were able to identify sweet-tasting urine as a symptom of diabetes due to excess sugar levels. This led to the name “diabetes” which comes from the Greek word for “siphon” as excessive urination is a common symptom.

The Modern Understanding of Diabetes

As medical knowledge advanced, so did our understanding of diabetes. In 1921, insulin was discovered and became a lifesaving treatment for those with type 1 diabetes. This allowed those with type 1 diabetes to process glucose properly and live longer, healthier lives.

However, as previously mentioned, type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in modern times due to poor diet and lack of exercise. It’s important to remember that while diabetes may have existed in ancient times, our modern lifestyle has certainly contributed to its rise.


In conclusion, while it’s difficult to determine when exactly diabetes was discovered, there are references to symptoms of the disease in ancient texts. Our modern understanding of diabetes has come a long way since then with treatments such as insulin being discovered. However, it’s important to recognize that our modern lifestyle has contributed to the rise of type 2 diabetes and we must make conscious efforts towards healthy living to prevent or manage the disease.