Who Discovered Diabetes? Ancient India Connection

Who Discovered Diabetes? What is the history of Diabetes? When was diabetes discovered? Let’s take a look from the beginning.

The Early Years

discovery of diabetesDiabetes was discovered long before the current name was attributed to it. The earliest reference to the condition comes from the Indian physician Sushruta in the 6th century B.C. He noticed the sweet nature of the urine and termed the condition Madhumeha. Thus, arguably, Sushruta is the person that discovered diabetes. Although, the question that wasn’t asked is how did he know the urine was sweet tasting? Think about.

Interestingly, Sushruta attributed the condition, at least in part to a sedentary lifestyle and excess weight. Seems not much has changed in 2,600 years, at least when it comes to Type 2 diabetes.

Over the next 500 years or so, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and persons all have noted the condition now known as diabetes, based on the sweet tasting nature of the urine.

However, it wasn’t until the First Century when the Greek physician Aretaeus coined the term “diabetes”. Diabetes is from the Greek word meaning to siphon. The relationship between the term “to siphon” and the disease is because people with diabetes were said “to siphon” off fluids from the body through excess urination.

We would have to wait an additional 13 centuries before the first English written reference can be found. In 1425, an old English medical text uses the term “diabetes” to describe the condition.

Fast forward another 250 years and you find the term diabetes mellitus is coined by the physician Thomas Willis. Mellitus is Latin for honey. Willis added the term to more fully describe the sweet nature of the urine or people with diabetes.

Modern Era

history books and laptopDiabetes, in one name or another, has been discussed at great length. Curiously, it wasn’t until relatively modern times that doctors actually began to understand what diabetes actually is. In the late 1800’s, several doctors noticed that dogs that had their pancreas removed developed symptoms of diabetes.

Scientific understanding proceeded rather quickly from this point. Numerous studies were done on the pancreas culminating in the discovery and subsequent manufacturing of insulin for human treatment in 1921.

For further historical information on who discovered diabetes, please read our History of Diabetes Timeline.

By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed June 2011