The condition is mentioned in an Egyptian papyrus as early as 1500BCE where reference is made to one of its symptoms, polyuria (frequent urination), as well as the writings of a 6th century BCE Indian physician called Sushruta who had observed that the urine of many diabetics had a sweet odour and taste.
The term ‘diabetes,’ was coined in the First Century AD by Aretaeus, a Greek medical practitioner who described people with diabetes as having the tendency to ‘siphon off’ bodily fluids through excess urination. Diabetes’ is Greek for ‘to siphon.’
Possibly as a result, the well-known Greek physician, Galen postulated that diabetes was a disease resulting from defective kidneys, rather than the pancreas.
In many parts of the ancient world, right up until the 11th century or so, the diagnosis of diabetes was conducted by urine tasters who would look out for sweet urine as a sign that the disease was present. This may be the reason for the later extension of the name by Thomas Willis to the medical term used today: ‘diabetes mellitus,’ mellitus being Latin for ‘honey.’
More recently, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer was responsible for discovering that diabetics are deficient in a chemical produced by the pancreas which he named ‘insulin.’ His work was followed up by Charles Herbert Best and Sir Frederick Grant Banting in the 1920’s, who discovered that insulin was responsible for controlling blood sugar levels, leading to the development of medical insulin for treatment purposes.
A comprehensive timeline of important historic milestones and crucial medical breakthroughs related to the discovery and classification of diabetes can be found at: www.mdjunction.com/forums/diabetes-type-2-discussions/genera