Is Diabetes Genetically Inherited From Your Mother Or Father’s Side? – DIABETIC SOCK CLUB

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Is Diabetes Genetically Inherited From Your Mother Or Father’s Side?

As of 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the number of people worldwide who have diabetes is roughly 422 million. The number kept rising every year. In the United States alone, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death. In 2019, diabetes caused approximately 1.5 million deaths. This number does not include the deaths that were credited to high blood glucose.

But what is diabetes? Are you at risk of getting it?

Diabetes Explained

Diabetes is a chronic health condition. And no, it is not really caused by sugar. That is a common misconception, though.

Diabetes affects how the body converts food to energy. For the most part, food eaten is broken down into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is released into the bloodstream. However, for glucose to be converted into energy, it must first enter the body’s cells. The key to this happening is insulin. When blood sugar increases, insulin is released by the pancreas, enabling the energy-conversion process.

In people with diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot utilize it as it should. The result is too much sugar or glucose stays in the bloodstream and outside the cells. This condition is called hyperglycemia. This, in turn, leads to serious health problems over time.

To simplify, diabetes is not caused by sugar per se but rather by how the body is able to handle the sugar.

Diabetes Symptoms

Some of the more common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant feeling of hunger, even after eating
  • Frequent urination

A fasting plasma glucose of 126 mg/dL or higher is usually an indication that you have diabetes.

Three Types of Diabetes

There are three types of diabetes.

  • Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood. However, it can also occur in adults. It is theorized to be caused by an autoimmune reaction, which means the body is attacking itself. This stops the creation of insulin. The symptoms usually develop very quickly, and to date, no one knows how to prevent it.

The American Diabetes Association estimates 1.25 million Americans, both children and adults, suffer from this. Survival is dependent on taking daily shots of insulin.

  • Type 2

Unlike Type 1 sufferers, people with Type 2 diabetes can produce insulin. However, they either can’t make enough to keep up with their blood sugar levels, or their bodies cannot utilize the insulin as effectively as they should. This results in the body being unable to maintain normal sugar levels. 

This type is usually associated with lifestyle-related factors.

  • Gestational

Gestational diabetes causes women to have high blood sugar while pregnant. It could develop even if the woman never had diabetes before the pregnancy. This is usually a temporary condition and goes away after the baby is born. It is important to note that having gestational diabetes increases the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes later. The risk is present for mother and child.

Are You at Risk of Getting Diabetes?

Many risk factors influence the risk of getting diabetes. For Type 1, this includes:

  • Family History
  • Age
  • Environmental Factors

Having a family member with diabetes increases the chances of you getting it, too. It’s also more prevalent in children and teens versus adults.

It’s also been suggested that acquiring a virus at a young age may trigger Type 1 diabetes in some people. Studies also indicate that cold climates and air pollution may contribute to increased risk for Type 1.

Type 1 diabetes is more likely to develop in whites than African Americans or Hispanic Americans in the US. 

Type 2 diabetes at-risk individuals, meanwhile, typically:

  • Are overweight
  • Are 45 years or older
  • Have pre-diabetes
  • Not physically active
  • Have had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Have family members with type 2 diabetes

This type is also more common in:

  • African Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • American Indians
  • Alaska Natives

Some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans may also be at a higher risk.

For gestational diabetes, you are at risk if you:

  • Had gestational diabetes previously
  • Have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Are overweight
  • Are more than 25 years of age
  • Had family history of Type 2 diabetes
  • Have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

The risk is also greater in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska and Hawaii Natives, and Pacific Islanders.

One thing you may notice, though, is all diabetes types, family history plays a part. This begs the question: can diabetes be mainly genetic?

Is Diabetes Genetic?

What genetic factors influence the risk of getting diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, the child of a Type 1 diabetic man has roughly a 6% chance of developing the same. If your mother has Type 1 diabetes, the risk is between 1% to 4%, depending on her age when she gave birth. If both parents have Type 1 diabetes, the risk goes up to between 10% and 25%.

Having a parent with Type 2 diabetes also factors in the child developing the same. This is compounded by the fact that Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle factors. Parents usually pass on poor habits to their children, adding to the genetic predisposition.

Diabetes and DNA

Diabetes tends to run in families. And while genetic risk factors do not automatically equate to assurance that you will get diabetes, it does play a part in influencing whether you develop it or not. How much of a role it plays is dependent on the type.

Type 1

In Type 1 people, the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas. The pancreas, of course, makes the insulin. Insulin, as previously mentioned, is supposed to carry the sugar (glucose) to the cells, where it will be converted to energy. With no way to create insulin, hyperglycemia occurs. This is why Type 1 diabetics need daily insulin shots and constantly monitor their blood sugar levels.

Blood tests are run to check for autoantibodies that attack the insulin-producing cells as part of the diagnosis. But the presence of these autoantibodies does not necessarily mean a patient will develop diabetes. Joshua Miller, MD, Assistant Dean for Clinical Integration and Medical Director for Diabetes Care at Stony Brook Medicine, explains that doctors can screen for the autoantibodies. However, “there are patients who have positive autoantibodies and never develop type 1 diabetes.”

What does this suggest? Simply that while genetics may be a factor, it is not the only factor. Case in point: a July 2017 study found evidence that infant nutrition, specifically breastfeeding babies, tends to lower the risk for Type 1 diabetes. Further studies indicate that the inheritance pattern for this type is unclear in most cases.

Type 2

For Type 2 sufferers, insulin is produced in insufficient quantities or not appropriately utilized in what is called insulin resistance. Around 90% to 95% of all diabetes patients have Type 2 diabetes. The influence of genetics is more evident here.

A review of the family history of a person with Type 2 diabetes will often show someone else in the family having the same condition. There’s also a high likelihood of a family member being obese or showing other risk factors.

However, it is essential to note that unlike Type 1, Type 2 diabetes is developed. That means that while genetics may play a part, the influence from the environment and lifestyle may be equally to blame. Things like a poor diet, lack of exercise, and pollution can add to the risk. 

Gestational Diabetes

The same can be said for gestational diabetes. In this case, pregnant women may develop insulin resistance. Like Type 2, data suggests that a family member having diabetes can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. At the same time, environmental and lifestyle factors are also likely contributing. 

Genetic Testing for Diabetes – Is it Useful?

With studies not showing a reliance on genetic factors alone influencing whether you get diabetes or not, does genetic testing for it even matter? The short answer is yes. But it depends on the form of the disease.

According to the NIDDK, there are genetic mutations that cause diabetes. These involve proteins responsible for the production of or the body’s ability to use insulin. These mutations are linked to proteins malfunctioning. Genetic testing helps identify the mutations in some instances.

How useful is the information? It depends if the form of diabetes is monogenic or polygenic.

Monogenic diabetes means the mutation causing the disease is present in a single gene. Common monogenic diabetes forms include maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) and neonatal diabetes mellitus (NDM). The first appears during teen years and young adulthood, while the latter is common in infants. 

Mutations for MODY are usually found in the GCK or HNF1A gene. In people with MODY, blood tests will indicate Type 1 diabetes. However, this mutation type does not need insulin as it doesn’t affect the treatment of the disorder. In short, genetic testing can likely save a person from unnecessary treatments and the costs associated with such.

NDM, meanwhile, is often mistaken for Type 1 diabetes. But infants with this gene mutation do not produce enough insulin. The condition is permanent, although it can disappear and reappear again in some cases.

Both MODY and NDM are dominant mutations. They can be passed on to children even if only one parent carries the gene.

Polygenic diabetes involves multiple genes and is the cause of most forms of diabetes, regardless of the type. Each gene only contributes minimally to the risk. Each additional mutation, however, increases the overall risk factor.

For example, any gene involved in glucose level control can impact the risk for Type 2 diabetes. These genes control, among many others, the production of glucose and insulin. They are also involved in the regulation of insulin, how the body senses glucose levels, and moving glucose into the pancreas.

Unlike the monogenic type, though, genetic testing for polygenic diabetes only reveals an association or a probability. The disease itself is not caused by genetic variation but rather its complex interaction with the environment and lifestyle factors. In these cases, more traditional diagnostic testing may be more helpful in determining the course of treatment.

In Type 2 diabetes, in particular, more accurate predictors than family history and genetic testing include:

  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Triglyceride Levels
  • High Cholesterol Levels
  • A History of Gestational Diabetes

The Bottom Line

Is diabetes genetic? The answer is complicated.

Scientists have already established that gene mutations will show a higher risk of getting the disease. Many individuals with diabetes show these mutations. However, studies also show that not every carrier of the mutation will develop the disease.

On top of that, a clear delineation between genetic risk factors and environmental risk factors does not exist just yet. The latter is also often influenced by family members, further complicating matters. 

Diabetes is a complex condition. It can be inherited, but other non-genetic factors also play a role. Therefore, it is essential not just to rely on genetic tests but to pay close attention to things like family history. It is also vital to maintain a healthy lifestyle to lower your risk, particularly for Type 2.

The Diabetes Intervention Accentuating Diet and Enhancing Metabolism (DIADEM) study suggests that increased physical activity and weight loss can prevent or even reverse early Type 2 diabetes, with blood glucose levels returning to normal and patients experiencing diabetes remission. So, starting an exercise program and adhering to a healthy and balanced meal plan with nutrient-dense snacks can help lower your risk significantly, even if you have the gene mutations. 

Knowing risk factors can help one make lifestyle changes to prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes. And while there is currently no known cure for Type 1, genetic testing can help identify what type of it (mono or poly) you may be predisposed for. It can also help path the course for treatment, whatever Type you may have.

Simply put, the risk for diabetes may be genetic. However, having the genes for them does not mean you will 100% get the disease. Other factors likely influence whether at-risk individuals will continue to develop the disease or not. Even people that have been proven to show genetic mutations for the disease may not exhibit typical symptoms and may require different treatment and management options.


References:

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