Diabetes is not a single disease; it is actually a number of conditions that interfere with the way the body uses blood glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for our muscles and tissues. When we eat, food breaks down to glucose, a simple sugar, and our bodies release it into the bloodstream. Normally, the pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which acts as a key allowing glucose to move from the bloodstream to the cells.
In diabetics, this process is hindered, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. If you’re interested in finding out what causes diabetes, learn about the many probable causes of diabetes of all types.
Type 1 Diabetes Causes
Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease. When the body’s immune system mistakes the insulin producing cells of the pancreas (islet cells) as foreign invaders, it attacks and destroys them. The body can no longer produce the insulin it needs to move glucose from the blood and diabetes results.
Type 1 diabetes causes seem to be both genetic and environmental. Studies on the genetics of diabetes have identified certain genes that indicate an increased type 1 diabetes risk. Additionally, a family history of type 1 diabetes slightly increases the chances of developing this condition. However, genes alone don’t seem to be the only causes of diabetes type 1. Some environmental causes of type 1 diabetes may include:
- Cold weather
- Early life diet
- Exposure to viruses.
Causes of Diabetes Type 2
When the cells of the body become resistant to the function of insulin and/or not enough insulin is produced, type 2 diabetes occurs. The genetics of diabetes type 2 is much stronger than its role in the development of type 1 diabetes. Therefore, a family history of type 2 diabetes significantly increases your risk. Research has also uncovered a strong connection between obesity and diabetes type 2. Other possible causes of diabetes type 2 include:
- Ethnic heritage including being African American, Mexican American and Pima Indian
- Western lifestyle, including a low-fiber, high-fat diet and lack of exercise.
Western lifestyle seems to have a stronger influence than genetics in some cases. High-risk ethnic groups tend not to develop type 2 diabetes unless they adopt a Western lifestyle.
Pre-diabetics are unable to produce enough insulin, and/or have cells that have become resistant to the actions of insulin. The result is blood sugars that are higher than normal, but not fully diabetic. If not treated, pre-diabetes is likely to lead to diabetes type 2. Some risk factors for pre-diabetes include:
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Ethnicity (African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific islanders are at higher risk.)
- Family history
- Gestational diabetes
- Inadequate sleep
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Gestational Diabetes Causes
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only develops during pregnancy. Hormones produced in the placenta interfere with the action of insulin. While no method has been established to determine what causes diabetes of this type, here are some common risk factors:
- Age past 25
- Ethnicity (African Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans and Native American are at higher risk.)
- Family history
American Diabetes Association. (n.d.) Genetics of diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/genetics-of-diabetes.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes/DS01121/DSECTION=causes.
UpToDate. (2010). Patient information: Diabetes mellitus type 2: Overview. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.utdol.com/patients/content/topic.do?topicKey=~X0jjLnBn4._ko.