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August 18, 2002

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Panama City, Florida, USA:

I served several tours of duty in Vietnam, was doused with liquid Agent Orange in 1967, became ill, eventually was diagnosed several years later with type 1 diabetes, and my eight year daughter was also diagnosed with it. Could she have gotten it through me? I have no genetic markers, and there is no family history of it, yet she and I both have to take 30-35 units of insulin daily. Could my heavy exposure to dioxin have genetically been passed on to my daughter? I am getting old and worry that this child will be left unemployable and without health care when I die. If there is any chance, of this being related to the military, I would like to know.


We don’t know the full extent of what Agent Orange and other chemicals can do. There is no definitive link to causing diabetes, but nobody can say that this is not a possibility. While you can spend a lot of time being angry with what the US government did or did not do with Vietnam, it may not be worth the energy required to carry this around.

I would suggest that guilt is not such a good item even though most of us feel guilty about lots of things. Please remember that you did not purposefully expose yourself or even know about any remote potential for exposing a child genetically. If it takes up a lot of your time pondering such grief, it may be worthwhile to talk to a good therapist about these issues so that they can provide some emotion-neutral advice.

In terms of your daughter’s diabetes, with modern therapy, frequent blood glucose monitoring and multidose insulin administration, she should be able to live and full and productive life. Remember that there are actors, actresses, Olympic sports participants and a Miss America who all have type 1 diabetes and do their own things rather well. If you give your daughter a positive outlook on what she has to do — even while dealing with a chronic illness like diabetes that takes so much time and effort — and if you and the rest of your family work closely with her to realize her goals and aspirations, she should do well. Setting a good example for her by taking the best possible care of your own diabetes will go a long way towards reaching all these goals.