In my last few articles I have mentioned a number of the possible reasons behind the development of diabetes. These included; obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, age and family. However, many of these are risk factors and do not directly cause diabetes themselves. In this article I will attempt to drill down the causes of the various types of diabetes so that you can take preventative measures and reduce your risk of contracting diabetes.
1) GENERAL CAUSES:- The main cause of diabetes is the cells of your body not getting enough insulin (the hormone which breaks glucose down into energy). This may be because your pancreas is not producing enough insulin or because your body’s cells have become resistant to insulin.
2) GESTATIONAL DIABETES (GDM):- It is currently not known exactly what causes gestational diabetes. However, the widely accepted belief is that changes to your body in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy influence the development of GDM. During this time your baby is growing and relies on glucose (the body’s primary source of energy) for nourishment. To ensure the baby receives enough glucose during these two trimesters, the placenta releases insulin blocking hormones. This causes women’s insulin requirements to increase by two or three times the normal rate during pregnancy. Failure to produce enough insulin to meet this excess demand whilst pregnant causes gestational diabetes to develop.
3) TYPE 1 DIABETES:- Again the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. The condition develops when the pancreas becomes damaged. In most cases this damage is the result of an auto-immune response (where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells). In the case of type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas (which produce insulin) are attacked by the body’s immune system meaning that insulin can no longer be produced. Whilst we know WHAT happens to cause type 1 diabetes, we do not know WHY this happens but there are a number of popular suggestions which include:
– An unknown viral infection instigates this auto-immune response.
– Unknown toxins in the foods we eat cause this auto-immune response.
– Faulty nerves in the pancreas cause this auto-immune response.
4) TYPE 2 DIABETES AND PRE-DIABETES:- Pre-diabetes is an early indicator of type 2 diabetes and the causes of each are almost identical. As with the other types of diabetes listed above, the exact cause of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes is unknown. The conditions develop when the body’s cells start to resist insulin. The pancreas responds by producing more insulin and the liver responds by releasing more glucose (because the body is not processing the glucose that is already in the blood). Over time this limits the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin and increases the body’s resistance to insulin. Like with type 1 diabetes it is not know why the body’s cells start to resist insulin. However, there are a number of specific, associated risk factors including:
– Age: Exercising regularly and keeping control of your weight reduces your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. However, as we age we generally gain weight and exercise less. If you follow this pattern then the older you get the greater chance you have of developing type 2 diabetes.
– Ethnicity: It is not known why ethnic origin affects your chances of diabetes but unfortunately it does. Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans are all ethnicities which are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
– Family: Again it is not understood why but having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes greatly increases the risk of you contracting it too.
– Gestational Diabetes (GDM): If you develop gestational diabetes whilst pregnant the unfortunate news is that you are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes at a later stage. On the bright side, effective management of gestational diabetes reduces the impact it has on the future development of type 2 diabetes.
– Inactivity: When you exercise you use additional glucose for energy and this helps to moderate your blood sugar levels. Furthermore, regular exercise helps you control your weight which makes your cells more receptive to insulin. By being inactive you are negating all these benefits and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
– Obesity: An increased amount of fatty tissue increases insulin resistance in your body’s cells. According to DLife this is because; fat cells have fewer insulin receptors than muscles, fat cells release free fatty acids which interfere with glucose metabolism and excess glucose is stored as body fat which increases the number of cells the pancreas has to supply with insulin.
– Pre-Diabetes: This one only counts for type 2 diabetes obviously. As discussed above pre-diabetes is an early sign for the development of type 2 diabetes. If preventative action is not taken pre-diabetes can easily develop into type 2 diabetes.
5) RUMOURS:- Since the exact cause of diabetes is unknown, a number of rumours have developed regarding its origins. In particular, these rumours falsely suggest that specific factors can cause diabetes. Below I have addressed three of the most popular rumours:
– Diabetes is Contagious: Diabetes is NOT contagious. You cannot catch diabetes of another person and if you are a diabetic you cannot pass it on to anyone else. However, having parents or siblings with diabetes increases your risk of contracting it. Therefore, whilst you cannot catch diabetes directly off another human being (e.g. you will not get diabetes by being in the same room as, touching, kissing or having intercourse with another diabetic) there is a hereditary element to the disease.
– Sugar Causes Diabetes: This is one of the most popular rumours around. Diabetics need to monitor their sugar intake quite closely and because of this sugar is often linked with causing diabetes. Eating lots of sugar DOES NOT cause diabetes. However, sugary foods are often very low in nutritional value and rarely satisfy your hunger, hence the reason that they are often referred to as “empty calories” (for example you do not feel fuller after drinking a bottle of lemonade but you have still consumed “empty calories” by drinking it). Consuming too much sugar very often leads to you becoming overweight because the excess calories from the sugar are not satisfying you in the same way that more complex carbohydrates would. Being overweight makes your cells more resistant to insulin which does increase your risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. Therefore, whilst sugar is not directly related to the development of diabetes it is still a good idea to moderate your consumption.
– Stress Causes Diabetes: Stress can aggravate diabetes and make the condition worse if you are a diabetic. It is also possible that stress can trigger an auto-immune attack, similar to those that lead to the development of type 1 diabetes. However, to date there is NO EVIDENCE which suggests that stress causes diabetes.
Whilst we have a general understanding of what causes the various types of diabetes the exact triggers are unknown. No one is 100% sure why the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas in type 1 diabetes. Nobody knows for sure why the cells of type 2 diabetics start to resist insulin. However, an increasing amount of evidence suggests that regular exercise and healthy eating can help prevent diabetes if you are not a sufferer, and minimise the impact of diabetes if you are a sufferer. Therefore, whilst you cannot be 100% certain of what causes diabetes you can be confident in the fact that you know what prevents it. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day and consume healthy foods most of the time, and the chances are you will never have to worry about what causes diabetes because you will not be at risk from it in the first place.
Every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative but it is intended for general information only. Diabetes is a medical condition and this article is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your doctor or a qualified medical practitioner. If you have any concerns regarding any form of diabetes you should seek the advice of your doctor immediately.
Blood Glucose/Sugar Information (Wikipedia)
The Causes of Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes: Causes and Risk Factors (DLife)
Sugar and Diabetes Information (Health Castle)
Stress and Diabetes Information (Health A to Z)
Insulin Information (Wikipedia)
Obesity Information (Wikipedia)
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors (Mayo Clinic)