Although the exact cause of diabetes has not been detected, several factors play a role in the manifestation of the disease. It is usually when environmental factors combine with a genetic predisposition that people develop the clinical symptoms of diabetes and this is what determines the timing of onset of diabetes as well. Therefore, even if a person is genetically predisposed to diabetes, proper diet and exercise and a natural diabetes treatments plan can go a long way in preventing the manifestation of the disease. The pattern of heredity and the contribution of environmental factors vary for type I and type II diabetes.
Given below are some of the key contributing factors towards diabetes.
Type I Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Hyperglycemia together with other symptoms of Type 1 diabetes occurs only when almost 90% of beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed.
If close relatives have Type 1 diabetes, then the chances of getting the disease are much higher than the normal population. This shows that genetics play a role in Type 1 diabetes. The genes that are considered to play a major role in Type 1 diabetes are the HLA class II genes also known as IDDM1 and contribute to almost half of the genetic influence for the onset of type I diabetes. Genetic factors contribute to 30% of the susceptibility of type I diabetes. The region of the insulin gene known as IDDM 2 is also associated with Type 1 diabetes. Other weaker links include IDDM3, IDDM4 and IDDM 5, but more details regarding the actual genes and their mode of action has not been extensively studied.
Environmental factors play a bigger role in Type 1 diabetes than genetics. An increased proneness to auto-immune diseases and an impaired immune system can cause Type 1 diabetes.
Viral infections, especially those affecting the pancreas can cause Type I diabetes. Viral infections even while the child is still in the mother’s womb can cause a higher chance of the baby developing Type I diabetes at a later stage. Specific viruses associated with Type I diabetes are enteroviruses, rota virus, mumps and rubella, as well as cytomegalovirus. Today there are effective vaccinations that can prevent mumps and rubella.
Studies have been conducted on the effect of cow’s milk protein on Type I diabetes. Bovine serum albumin (BSA) a major component of cow’s milk is supposed to play a role in causing Type I diabetes. It has been proven that kids who are given cow’s milk in infancy have a greater chance of developing Type I diabetes than those who are breastfed. BSA can cross the baby’s gut and increase the antibodies which can then cross-react with beta cells in the pancreas thereby damaging them.
Some studies have shown that shorter breastfeeding duration increases the chances of Type 1 diabetes even when there is a genetic predisposition to the disease. Thus if two siblings have close relatives who have Type I diabetes and one of them is breastfed for a longer duration then his chances of developing the disease is significantly reduced. It could also be possible that the absence of a strong immune system in non-breast fed babies is a cause of Type I diabetes. In addition breast feeding ensures the proper development of the gut as well as protects the baby against viral infections that can cause Type I diabetes.
Various other factors such as nitrosamines and coffee are also considered as possible diabetogenic factors. Dietary proteins such as gluten are also supposed to have an effect on Type 1 diabetes.
There is a new theory that being more hygienic can cause Type I diabetes. This theory says that a late exposure to disease causing viruses and bacteria can actually weaken the immune system thus making the body more susceptible to infections at a later stage. This is seen as an explanation of the higher prevalence of Type I diabetes in developed countries. Therefore it is recommended that children attend day cares, share beds with siblings and are allowed to play outdoors and with pets in order to improve their immune system and act as prevention against Type I diabetes.
Stress can aggravate symptoms of type I diabetes by causing the release if stress hormones which may negatively affect the body’s immune system.
Type I diabetes is also associated with autoimmune diseases such as thyroid, celiac disease, Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia and vitiligo.