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June 2, 2003

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Enterprise, Alabama, USA:

Another person and I were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but the doctors have no idea how we got it. Neither of us have a family history, and we are both in prime health. However both of us were subject to misuse of dieting while we were growing up. My legally insane stepmother misused the Feingold diet as we were growing up, and my brothers and I were severely underweight. How many cases are out there where no one can explain how someone got type 1 diabetes? Can this be attributed to severe malnutrition and complete absence of all sugars while growing up?

Answer:

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the beta cells are killed by the body’s immune system. It is not clear how the trigger works. Most people feel you inherit a predisposition, but it requires an environmental trigger such as a virus, illness, or some exposure.

Studies evaluating specific genes coding for the immune system have identified high risk individuals. Currently, they are not for clinical use. It is usual for type 1 diabetes to skip generations so the fact you have no family history for this condition is to be expected.

The diet you speak of is unlikely to be the only issue to initiate type 1 diabetes, although it would be hard to find an example in the medical literature where this had been studied extensively.

JTL