The exact causes of diabetes are not fully known or understood. Diabetes is a group of diseases that is marked by high levels of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. The increased amount of sugar in the blood is a result of either defects in the production of insulin or the way in which insulin is used by the body. Complications from diabetes can result in further medical conditions that make it difficult to treat diabetes, such as kidney failure, peripheral vascular disease or heart disease.
Type 1 diabetes is the result of a lack of insulin production because of the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. These beta cells are responsible for the production of insulin that regulates blood glucose. Researchers have found that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that increase a person’s risk for developing Type 1 diabetes. (1)
If these factors can be identified through further research into the causes of diabetes then it is feasible that scientists will be able to make recommendations for the prevention of this disease. Researchers do know that the body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas because of a mistake made by the immune system. The theory is that Type 1 diabetes happens when an environmental toxin or pathogen triggers the immune system to attack itself.
Type 1 diabetes can happen at any age but most often happens in children and young adults. Because of the causative factors, it has an acute onset. Most individuals are able to pinpoint when their symptoms began. In some instances, the resulting problems from an acute onset of symptoms lead to the need for emergency services.
Type 2 diabetes is also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes. This condition happens when the body still produces enough insulin but the body has become resistant to the effects of the hormone. This type of diabetes usually develops in middle age and in overweight individuals. It is most common in people who are older, obese, have a family history of diabetes or have had gestational diabetes. (2)
Individuals who go on to experience Type 2 diabetes find that there are specific risk factors that place them in a higher risk category. These risk factors include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, infection, hereditary or inherited traits, age, poor diet, obesity, hypertension, and high triglyceride and cholesterol levels. These are factors that place individuals at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes but are not necessarily the main causes of diabetes. (3)
The exact causative factor for an individual who develops Type 2 diabetes is not known or understood. Some individuals may have most of the risk factors but never develop the disease while others may have only one or two factors and develop the disease. Researchers and scientists are continuing to work towards a better understanding of the causes of this illness.
What scientists do know is that diabetes is not contagious which means that one individual with diabetes cannot pass it on to another individual. It is not caused by eating sweets or the wrong kinds of foods. However, the wrong kinds of foods and eating sweets can cause obesity which is associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Stress itself is not a cause of diabetes but rather a trigger for the development of the symptoms and it does make the symptoms worse in those who already have the disease.
The third type of diabetes which affects the glucose system is gestational diabetes. This is a diabetic situation that occurs in a pregnant woman and is believed to be caused by hormonal changes in weight gain. When found early, it is easily treated so that it does not affect the growth and development of the infant. Most women who develop gestational diabetes find that the condition disappears after the delivery of the baby. However, having suffered from gestational diabetes puts a woman at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. (4)
Although researchers and scientists continue to search for the causes of diabetes there are reasonable treatment options available for individuals at this time. These treatment options are not cures but rather methods for individuals to better manage their disease condition in order to reduce the possibility of long-term medical complications.
(1) University of Maryland Medical Center: Type 1 Diabetes
(2) American Diabetes Association: Type 2 Diabetes
(3) PubMed Health: Type 2 Diabetes
(4) American Pregnancy Association: Gestational Diabetes