Type 1 diabetes causes don’t involve what you eat. Instead, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease resulting from certain genes and environmental triggers.
You may have heard diabetes described as an epidemic in the U.S. After all, more than 37 million Americans (nearly 10 percent of the population) have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But that figure can be misleading.
The vast majority of Americans with diabetes, over 95 percent, have type 2. The rest have type 1 diabetes. Although both forms of disease can have similar symptoms, type 2 diabetes causes are totally different from type 1 diabetes causes.
Type 2 diabetes is primarily the result of lifestyle factors; being overweight and sedentary are key factors. But type 1 diabetes causes have nothing to do with how much or what a person eats, or whether they exercise regularly, the CDC notes.
It’s true exercise and a healthy diet can benefit blood glucose control in all forms of diabetes and may prevent type 2 diabetes in the first place. But your lifestyle can’t prevent type 1 diabetes because type 1 diabetes causes involve a serious problem with the immune system.
Understanding the role of the pancreas in type 1 diabetes causes
Your pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels. In type 2 diabetes, the body builds up resistance to the insulin the pancrease produces, resulting in glucose not moving into cells normally. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to compensate but, over time, the organ can’t make enough insulin, so blood sugar levels rise.
Type 1 diabetes causes, however, are tied to a different problem with the pancreas. The organ can’t make insulin at all (or makes only a tiny amount). Without daily insulin injections, people with type 1 diabetes cannot live.
In type 1 diabetes, metabolic resistance does not cause the pancreas to fail, as it does in type 2 diabetes. Instead, an autoimmune reaction causes type 1 diabetes. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas, destroying beta cells, the cells that make insulin.
As autoimmune attacks damage the pancreas, it can take months or years before symptoms of type 1 diabetes are obvious. When enough beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed, the symptoms of a lack of insulin in the body can be sudden, severe, and life-threatening until insulin is administered.
Genes plus triggers produce type 1 diabetes
There is clearly a family link to type 1 diabetes. The JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) points out that one in 20 people who have a close relative with the disease has a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The risk is 15 times greater than the rest of the population.
Type 1 diabetes causes likely involve something that “turns on” the autoimmune attack in people who have certain genes (traits passed on from parent to child). This genetic coding makes them more susceptible than others to develop type 1 diabetes.
Many people with the same genetic makeup, however, never develop type 1 diabetes. Scientists believe the explanation involves environmental factors that initiate a pancreas-damaging autoimmune response in people with specific genes.
For example, exposure to certain viruses could be a possible trigger, causing type 1 diabetes in some people, the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains.
Research conducted by TrialNet is centered on pinpointing how genes and environmental triggers result in the disease. The goal is to develop treatments to slow and even prevent type 1 diabetes from developing in people genetically at risk.
February 22, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN