Type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, it isn’t caused by anything that you did or didn’t do, and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. For reasons we don’t yet fully understand, your immune system – which is meant to protect you from viruses and bacteria – attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in your pancreas, called beta cells.
Insulin is crucial to life. When you eat, insulin moves the energy from your food, called glucose, from your blood into the cells of your body. When the beta cells in your pancreas fail to produce insulin, glucose levels in your blood start to rise and your body can’t function properly. Over time this high level of glucose in the blood may damage nerves and blood vessels and the organs they supply.
This condition affects 400,000 people in the UK, with over 29,000 of them children. Incidence is increasing by about four per cent each year particularly in children under five, with a five-fold increase in this age group in the last 20 years.
What causes type 1?
More than 50 genes have been identified that can increase a person’s risk of developing type 1, but genes are only part of the cause. Scientists are also currently investigating what environmental factors play a role.
What is known is that:
- Destruction of insulin-producing beta cells is due to damage inflicted by your immune system
- Something triggered your immune system to attack your beta cells
- Certain genes put people at a greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes, but are not the only factors involved
- While there are no proven environmental triggers, researchers are looking for possible culprits, such as viral infections and toxins within our environment and foods.
Is it hereditary?
Around 90 per cent of people with type 1 have no family history of the condition.
Although other family members may carry the same ‘at risk’ genes, the overall risk of type 1 diabetes for multiple family members is generally low.