How Your Past Can Affect Diabetes

Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening chronic medical condition that has received a lot of attention in recent years because it currently affects one out of every ten U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent research indicates that there may be risk factors previously unknown for Type 1 diabetes, which most commonly develops in children between the ages of 4 and 7 or 10 and 14, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as “adult onset diabetes,” is the form of the disease that has received the most attention. It has been linked to obesity and is considered preventable or manageable through life style changes — weight loss, exercise, diet, and medication. Researchers have recently determined that life events may affect the risk of Type 1 diabetes, as well.

Traumatic Life Events May Raise the Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

As reported in a recent article in Time Magazine, a study published in the journal Diabetologia revealed that children who experienced traumatic events, such as divorce of the parents, death in the family, accidents, or a move to a new home in early years had triple the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. The study involved 10,495 families who had children born between 1997 and 1999. Researchers asked the families to participate in follow-up sessions when their children were between the ages of 2 and 14.

Previously known risk factors for Type 1 diabetes stated by the Mayo Clinic include genetics, family history, geography, and age. The clinic also names other possible risk factors that have not been proven, including exposure to certain viruses, low levels of vitamin D, exposure to cow’s milk early in life, cereal and gluten in a baby’s diet, drinking water containing nitrates, and preeclampsia during pregnancy. Scientists engaged in the study adjusted for known Type 1 risk factors in arriving at their conclusions.

The Time article speculates that certain children may be genetically predisposed to develop Type 1 diabetes but the genetic triggers are not activated until the children experience major stress or trauma, such as the loss of a loved one. According to the article, high stress levels may cause a boost in the hormone cortisol, which causes the beta cells to work harder and produce more insulin. The immune system may see the excess of insulin as harmful and proceed to attack and destroy the beta cells.

Family Support May Help Reduce the Risk of Disease

Stressful situations and difficulties are part of life. Accidents and deaths in the family are not always within our control. In some cases, divorce is the best solution, and a move to a new location may be in the best interests of the family. The Time article suggests that supporting families who help each other through life’s difficulties may make help young children stay healthier and give them a better chance of avoiding chronic diseases such as Type 1 diabetes.