If you have diabetes, chances are you may have wondered if it runs in your family. Or maybe you’ve worriedly thought about passing it on to your children.
Before thinking about genetics, it’s important to know the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that makes it difficult for a person’s body to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and young adults. Type 2 diabetes is a little different, because it develops later in life, more commonly during adulthood. This condition occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or stops producing the amount needed.
While the causes of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes aren’t officially known, WHO research has shown that the condition is the result of two main factors: genetics and a person’s environment. This means genes alone aren’t enough to cause diabetes. Instead, a person will inherit a gene for diabetes and then something in their environment will trigger it, activating the condition.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with type 1 diabetes typically inherit the gene from both parents. Research has shown a person’s early diet may be an environmental trigger for the condition. For example, babies who are breastfed may be less likely to develop type 1 diabetes. Because the condition affects the immune system, some physicians believe viruses contracted during childhood may also trigger type 1 diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association says genes may have a bigger influence in type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown obesity and diets heavy in sugar, fat, and cholesterol are all triggers for the condition. People from the same family often have similar lifestyles, which include eating and exercise habits. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics says children of overweight parents are almost twice as likely to become overweight than children of parents with a healthy weight.
If diabetes runs in your family, or if you’re worried about passing the condition on to your children, remember that there are several things you can do to help prevent its onset. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a diet rich in produce, lean protein, and whole grains can significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, WHO says. Regular checkups with your doctor will also help you detect conditions such as high blood sugar or prediabetes before they become a greater problem. Remember: Genes may play a part, but you have the most control over your wellbeing and your family’s!