Diabetes and Genetics
Is Diabetes Genetic?
Amongst the pressing concerns of individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes is whether or not to a certain extent, this extremely serious medical condition has been passed onto them, and/or will their descendants inherit it.
Wondering whether diabetes is genetic, hereditary, or has something to do with family history is a valid point of inquiry in order to better understand how a person’s diabetes may have been developed, and how this might affect our loved ones’ health.
Genetics does play a factor in the development of diabetes. An individual inherits a “predisposition” to diabetes, and some external environmental factors trigger it.
But like diabetes itself, the answer isn’t as simple as that.
Diabetes and Genes
Diabetes is the condition defined by high blood glucose levels coming from the lack or absence of insulin in the body. There are two types of diabetes— Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. To understand what role genes play in the development of diabetes, we must first distinguish between the two.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. This is characterized by absolute insulin deficiency— the state wherein there is irreversible autoimmune damage to the pancreatic beta cells which are responsible for producing insulin.
With Type 1 Diabetes, an external source of insulin is necessary to survive since the body can no longer produce any insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Scientists are still undergoing extensive studies to determine exactly which environmental factors might be the culprit behind the autoimmune damage that destroys the pancreas’ ability to produce any amount of insulin. Demographic qualifiers such as race, age, gender, sexes, and even climate are taken into consideration to determine the environmental risk factors for Type 1 Diabetes.
On the other hand, here are the statistical facts for genetic risk factors of diabetes:
- The child of a man with Type 1 Diabetes has the odds of developing the conditions at a rate of 1 in 17.
- Women with Type 1 Diabetes whose children were born before turning 25 have a risk factor of 1 in 25.
- If the child was born after turning 25, then the child’s odds of developing diabetes is 1 in 100.
- The risk factor is doubled if the individual with Type 1 Diabetes developed the condition before the age of 11.
However, there is an outlier in these numbers—- about one out of seven people with Type 1 diabetes have type 2 polyglandular autoimmune syndrome. This is characterized by the presence of thyroid disease, dysfunctional adrenal glands, and some other immune system disorders. Should an individual have this syndrome, the risk of the child developing Type 1 Diabetes and the syndrome itself goes up to one in two.
Substantial research is being done for the prediction of a person’s odds of getting diabetes based on his/ her genetic profile. In terms of race, Caucasian people have genes called HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4 which is linked to autoimmune disease. If both the individual and the child share this gene, the child is at high risk of developing diabetes.
An antibodies test can be taken to determine the susceptibility of children who have siblings with type 1 diabetes. It measures antibodies to islet cells in the pancreas and in insulin itself. A physician may be consulted regarding this test.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by the body’s decreased insulin production which causes alarmingly high blood glucose levels. Although the body is still able to produce insulin, it isn’t enough to curb
Type 2 Diabetes has a stronger degree of association to heredity, lineage and family’s medical history than Type 1. Yet, it also strongly develops due to environmental factors especially lifestyle choices.
Type 2 Diabetes is known to run in families. One, because of the genetic factor, but also due to children first developing poor lifestyle habits such as unhealthy diet and no exercise in the household.
It is often difficult to distinguish between the genetic risk and environmental risk factors. However, preventive measures can always be set in place for families to ensure that children make good lifestyle choices such as consuming a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.
The genes that are associated with Type 2 Diabetes are those that are directly involved with glucose sensing and production, and insulin regulation and production.
Here are some genes associated with type 2 diabetes risk:
- ABCC8, which aids in insulin regulation
- TCF7LT2 which is involved in insulin secretion and glucose production
- GCGR, a glucagon hormone that helps regulate glucose
- GLUT2, which transports glucose into the pancreas
The more accurate determinants of the risk of developing diabetes aside from family history of diabetes is high blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and a history of gestational diabetes.
The lifelong management of diabetes involves hard sacrifices and discipline that it is always beneficial to know ahead whether our loved ones have the risk of developing it.
In instances such as Type 2 Diabetes, prevention is always better than cure. Preventive measures such as developing healthy eating habits and exercising regularly are not only advantageous to avoid diabetes. It is the ultimate act of taking care of one’s body to ensure a healthy physical state for more and more years to come.
Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.