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Autoimmune Disease, Genetics, Global Health

Researchers struggle to explain rise of Type 1 diabetes

For some time now, public health officials have been sounding the alarm on Type 2 diabetes, which has been increasing in incidence along with obesity. But as Scientific American reports, data from the United States and Europe suggests a worldwide increase in Type 1 diabetes, as well – and researchers are unable to explain why.

Maryn McKenna writes:

For reasons that are completely mysterious, however, the incidence of type 1 diabetes has been increasing throughout the globe at rates that range from 3 to 5 percent a year. Although the second trend is less well publicized, it is still deeply troubling, because this form of the illness has the potential to disable or kill people so much earlier in their lives.

No one knows exactly why type 1 diabetes is rising. Solving that mystery—and, if possible, reducing or reversing the trend—has become an urgent problem for public health researchers everywhere. So far they feel they have only one solid clue.

“Increases such as the ones that have been reported cannot be explained by a change in genes in such a short period,” says Giu­seppina Imperatore, who leads a team of epidemiologists in the Division of Diabetes Translation at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So environmental factors are probably major players in this increase.”

The article goes on to say that although Type 1 and 2 diabetes are different diseases, researchers think  both may have a connection to lifestyle choices that contribute to excessive weight gain.

Previously: Diabetes care lacking in developing countries, Americans still falling short of national nutritional guidelines and More than three-quarters of Americans projected to be overweight, obese by 2020
Photo by NIH Image Bank

6 Responses to “ Researchers struggle to explain rise of Type 1 diabetes ”

  1. Beno Says:

    Can you please expand and name the “researchers” whop claim tha type1 Diabetes “may have a connection to lifestyle choices that contribute to excessive weight gain”.

    My son who was 7 years old at time of diagnosis has always been slim and has had a healthy diet.

  2. Kelly Says:

    I have the same question, Beno. My 12 year old was diagnosed with Type 1 back in May and he is a small boy who has frankly always been underweight.

  3. MyBustedPancreas Says:

    Huh? Some explanation is needed here. Most folks diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are VERY thin at the time of diagnosis (I was 3 when I was diagnosed with type 1 and went from a healthy toddler of normal weight to a practical skeleton of 19 pounds). Type 1 diabetes is, in most cases, an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas. It falls within a cluster of other autoimmune conditions, including MS, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. None of these are, to my knowledge, associated with excessive weight.

  4. Lisa Says:

    I agree with the other commenters – my son was barely two when he was diagnosed and lost 8 pounds off his tiny toddler frame in a very short amount of time. He was underweight to begin with and dropped to an alarmingly low body weight. Who is Lia Steakley and more importantly who is her editor – this sort of misinformed reporting, which flies in the face of what is actually known and proven about Type 1 diabetes is harmful and irresponsible. I’d like to see the author’s response to the comments made here by people who are actually knowledgable about DM Type 1.

  5. Brian Says:

    I too will add my voice to the chorus of “please explain.” This is poor reporting, and the claim that type 1 “may have a connection to lifestyle choices that contribute to excessive weight gain” needs some clarification. I was underweight when diagnosed as a teenager (27 years ago this week, as a matter of fact)but I’m not any longer. This statement seems to imply that lifestyle choices have a causal effect toward developing type 1, but is that what it really means? This is contrary to everything else about type 1 I’ve read and know to be true. Or, is this blaming my weight gain on the 60,000+ shots of insulin I’ve given myself? I guess in that case, my lifestyle choice was “to live.”

  6. Lia Steakley Says:

    As the Scientific American piece notes, researchers are exploring a number of potential causes to explain the uptick in Type 1 diabetes cases. This section in the original article discusses the link between Type 1 diabetes and body weight. It reads:

    Recently the search for a cause behind the rise of type 1 diabetes has taken an unexpected turn. Some investigators are reconsidering the role of an old adversary: being overweight or obese.

    That suspicion might seem counterintuitive given that diabetes dogma holds that being overweight tugs the body toward producing large amounts of insulin (as in type 2), not too little insulin. But some contend that the stress of producing all that extra insulin can burn out the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas and push a child whose beta cells are already under attack into developing type 1 diabetes.)This idea, called the accelerator or overload hypothesis, proposes that “if you have a kid who is chubby, that extra adiposity is going to challenge the pancreatic beta cells,” says Rebecca Lipton, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago. “In a child who has already started the autoimmune process, those beta cells are just going to fail more quickly, because they are being forced to put out more insulin than in a thin child.”

    I was flagging the article for our readers, so your comments and debate are welcome.

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