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March 19, 2012

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA:

My husband was diagnosed with type 1 13 years ago at age 30. He has a first cousin who was also diagnosed at around the same age, and some other autoimmune disorders run in the family. My question is for our two children, ages three and six. Is there anything we can be doing to decrease their risk? We do some DHA supplementation, but I’ve never had a good grasp on how much might be helpful. They also get a daily multivitamin with Vitamin D. Are there other recommendations that could be helpful?


Autoimmune disorders tend to run in families so there is some genetic component that sets up general risk factors. We don’t really understand much else about what sets them off, although there are lots of great theories and much research being done to try to answer such questions. Low vitamin D levels, in many studies, also are associated with more autoimmune disorders from lupus and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, to type 1 diabetes and also Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. So, optimizing vitamin D levels either with food and/or sun and/or supplements is wise. Nobody really knows exact amounts needed or even what blood levels to aim for; our practice has been to try to get and sustain blood vitamin D total levels around 50 and we almost always have to do so with daily supplements. It would also be reasonable to get a baseline set of thyroid antibodies, perhaps also celiac antibodies and maybe even pancreatic antibodies (islet cell, IA2 and GAD-65) as a screen. If any of these are abnormal, then a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist for ongoing surveillance and more specific testing may be warranted. If negative, this would be reassuring but does not guarantee that there won’t be changes later on. Some research studies have even identified some of the specific genes that are involved with such risks but these remain mostly research studies at present.


[Editor’s comment:

You might also look into having your children screened through TrialNet.