What Really Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

What Really Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Though cases of diabetes have increased greatly across the world in recent decades, a majority of these new cases are, in fact, related to type 2 diabetes. However, type 1 diabetes is another animal altogether. While type 2 diabetics suffer from insulin resistance and deficiency, the bodies of type 1 diabetics are unable to produce insulin at all. Since the insulin hormone is necessary for regulating glucose, the body’s primary source of energy, untreated type 1 diabetes can quickly lead to a medical emergency.

Who’s at risk of type 1 diabetes?

There are no guarantees when it comes to predicting who might contract type 1 diabetes. Type 2 cases are often directly related to lifestyle, but this isn’t necessarily the case for type 1. Here are some relevant risk factors for developing type 1 diabetes:

  • Someone whose close family member has type 1 diabetes has a higher risk of contracting it themselves. For example, the immediate relatives of someone with type 1 diabetes may be as much as ten to 20 times more likely to develop the disorder.
  • Many people who have developed type 1 diabetes started out with a different autoimmune syndrome, such as thyroid disease. This suggests that some of these syndromes might increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  • People with either Northern or Southern European ancestry tend to be at higher risk than others. Scientists are not clear about why this might be.

Nature or nurture?

Three possibilities exist:

  1. Type 1 diabetes is genetic.
  2. Type 1 diabetes is caused by something in the environment, such as a virus.
  3. Someone can be genetically predisposed to contracting type 1 diabetes from the environment.

The good news is that your odds of developing type 1 are relatively low; only one percent of Americans will develop type 1 diabetes in their lifetimes, as opposed to 11 percent who will develop type 2. The bad news is that there’s no known cure if you do get it, although its symptoms are certainly treatable.

So what causes type 1 diabetes?

Here’s the rub: No one knows exactly what causes type 1, but some possibilities are more likely than others.

  • If there’s a genetic cause at all, the leading contender so far is the class of gene known as HLA, which contributes to the body’s natural defense system. Some people with type 1 diabetes have certain variants of HLA genes that might cause their white blood cells to attack others cells that are necessary for the production of insulin in the body.
  • If there's an environmental cause, it may have to do with the winter: it's known that type 1 diabetes develops more often in the winter than in the summer months. Some viruses are also active in that time period, including mumps and coxsackievirus, which can cause meningitis. Since some of these viruses are known for causing autoimmune syndromes, scientists think they could be linked to type 1.

Type 1 diabetes is very different from type 2; it needs its own separate treatment plan, and the uncertainty surrounding its origin makes it harder to prevent. As with all things, however, receiving regular checkups from your doctor can help you detect the signs of type 1 diabetes as early as possible.