What Causes Diabetes?
September 3, 2020
There are three basic types of diabetes mellitus:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
The causes and risk factors are different for each type.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is also called Insulin-dependent diabetes. It’s a chronic condition in which your pancreas produces minimal or no insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose to enter your cells to create energy. Type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood, but it can occur in adolescents and adults too.
The exact causes of Type 1 diabetes aren’t known.
Insulin-producing cells in your pancreas are called beta cells of islets of Langerhans. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks them. Your immune system is there to fight against harmful viruses and bacteria. But here, the immune system identifies your beta cells as foreign and produces antibodies against them and destroys the pancreatic cells. So, the pancreas is unable to make the hormone insulin, which causes blood sugar levels to rise, leading to diabetes.
Genetics is identified to play a role in causing Type 1 diabetes. Research has also found that exposure to viruses and other environmental factors might also cause Type 1 diabetes.
These are the risk factors that trigger the onset of Type 1 diabetes:
- Genetics – You might have certain genes that increase risk.
- Family history – If you have a close relative with diabetes, such as a parent or a sibling, your risk is higher.
- Age – Type 1 diabetes may appear at any age, but there are two typical ages when it appears: Children aged between 4 -7 years and between 10 – 14 years have a higher risk for developing Type 1 diabetes.
- Geographical location – Interestingly, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes increases the farther away you from the equator.
Type 2 Diabetes
This type is much more common than Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes, but it’s increasingly being diagnosed in children today, probably because of increasing childhood obesity. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes glucose by resisting the effects of the hormone insulin, which regulates the entering of glucose into your cells. As blood glucose level rises, beta cells of the pancreas release more insulin to counteract it. However, with time these cells get impaired and become unable to produce enough insulin.
Although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, it appears that proper diet, exercise, and losing weight are effective ways to manage it.
Although the exact cause is unknown, genetics and environmental factors may play a role. Obesity and an inactive lifestyle are contributing factors for Type 2 diabetes.
Several identified risk factors increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes:
- Family history – If a parent or a sibling has Type 2 diabetes, your risk will increase.
- Age – As you grow older, your risk increases.
- Race – Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans are at higher risk.
- Weight – Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but that doesn’t mean thin people don’t develop it.
- Sedentary lifestyle – Physical activity helps to control your weight and uses glucose as energy. Being inactive increases your risk.
- Fat distribution in your body – People store fat mainly in their abdomen or hips and thighs. Those who store fat in their abdomen have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Waist circumference – Waist circumference of more than 40 inches (101.6cm) for males and larger than 35 inches (88.9cm) for females has been identified as a risk factor.
- Prediabetes is a condition where your blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. If left untreated, it can gradually progress to Type 2 diabetes.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – A common condition in women, characterized by obesity, excessive hair growth, and irregular menstrual periods. PCOS increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Acanthosis nigricans – A skin condition where you have dark skin areas, commonly in the neck and armpits. It often indicates insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational Diabetes – If you developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 4 kg (9 pounds) also increases your risk.
- Stress – Is known to increase your blood sugar level.
Hormonal changes may lead to increased blood sugar levels in pregnant women. Usually, the condition disappears after delivery; however, they will still have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
For all three types of diabetes, you will notice that there are preventable causes and risk factors and non-preventable ones. If you can control your diet and get regular exercise, you might be able to delay the onset of diabetes, even if facing higher risk factors.