Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder that is associated with a chronic hyperglycemic condition caused by inappropriate insulin action and/or secretion. Type 1 diabetes (T1D) has certain characteristic features. It usually occurs in people who are less than 20 years old and have normal body weight (Ozougwu, Obimba, Belonwu & Unakalamba, 2013). Although T1D accounts for 10% of all cases, the incidents of this disorder increases significantly (3.4%) each year (Ozougwu et al., 2013). Insulin therapy is regarded as the most effective treatment of this type of diabetes but there are still many gaps in this area. For instance, it is unclear what exactly causes the disorder and, hence, scientists are still unsure about the most effective treatment strategies. This paper dwells upon major causes of diabetes type 1.
First of all, it is necessary to note that researchers are uncertain about particular causes of the disorder but they all agree that T1D is an autoimmune disorder. In simple terms, the immune system recognizes pancreatic beta cells as ‘foreign’ bodies and starts destroying them (Saudek, Rubin & Donner, 2014). The body starts killing cells that are vital to its proper functioning as beta cells play the central role in regulation of sugar level in blood. The disorder is diagnosed if certain islet autoantibodies are found in blood. At that, it is still unclear whether the autoantibodies are the cause or an effect of the disease.
Scientists identify two major types of causes of T1D and one of them is genetic predisposition. Thus, Van Belle, Coppieters and Von Herrath (2011) note that there are monogenetic forms of T1D, which are quite rare. In this case, the disorder is caused by a mutational defect within a single gene that is accompanied by a number of autoimmune conditions. Another type of genetic cause of T1D is the defect in HLA genes. The discovery that took place in the 1970s revolutionized the research on the disorder. Due to the findings of that research, it is now known that the “HLA region on chromosome 6p21 … is a critical susceptibility locus” (Van Belle et al., 2011, p. 81). The insulin gene (or rather its defects) are associated with development of T1D. The recent research also suggests that a number of other genes can trigger the development of diabetes type 1. These genes include PTPN22, IL2RA, CTLA-4 (Van Belle et al., 2011). It is noteworthy that the development of the disease (even if a person has genetic predisposition) is often associated with some environmental causes.
Environmental causes include quite a wide range of triggers. For instance, it has been found that T1D can be caused by viral infections. Enteroviruses have long been seen as the main cause of the disorder. However, recent research reveals certain controversy and it is clear that the presence of enteroviruses is a risk factor that often (but not always) leads to development of the disease. Latest findings suggest that there can be other viral infections triggering the development of T1D. Some of these are rotaviruses and congenital rubella infection (Van Belle et al., 2011). However, the findings are quite controversial and further research in this area is needed.
Bacteria can also have an impact on development of T1D. Thus, bacteria found in the intestine can trigger the development of the disorder. Antibiotics and probiotics can affect the insulin balance in the body, which has certain impact on development of diabetes. Recent research shows that Mycobacterium avium can also trigger the development of T1D (Van Belle et al., 2011). Nonetheless, it is clear that more experiments and observations should be carried out.
Apart from viral infections and bacteria, researchers have identified a number of factors that can cause the development of T1D. For instance, some scientists argue that consumption of cow’s milk (and especially albumin component) or even breast milk can trigger the development of T1D. Nevertheless, the results of various researches are quite controversial and it is doubtful that cow’s milk can be one of the causes of the development of diabetes though this assumption needs to be checked (Van Belle et al., 2011). Gluten that is found in wheat proteins has also been regarded as a possible trigger of the disorder. However, the correlation between gluten and diabetes has not been proven and scientists tend to think that the reaction of the organism can be an effect of T1D rather than its cause. Furthermore, some researchers argue that vitamin D can be one of factors contributing to development of the disease. Nonetheless, the extensive bulk of research shows that vitamin D is quite beneficial for the organism and does not lead to development of T1D.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that major causes of the development of diabetes type 1 are genetic issues and viral infections. Some bacteria as well as some elements can be associated with the disorder but such assumptions have not been supported by comprehensive evidence. Clearly, scientists continue their research and they try to define particular causes of T1D as this will enable them to develop an effective treatment or even preventive strategy.
Ozougwu, J.C., Obimba, K.C., Belonwu, C.D., and Unakalamba, C.B. (2013). The pathogenesis and pathophysiology of type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of Physiology and Pathophysiology, 4(4), 46-57.
Saudek, C.D., Rubin, R.R., & Donner, T.W. (2014). The Johns Hopkins guide to diabetes: For patients and families. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.
Van Belle, T.L., Coppieters, K.T., Von Herrath, M.G. (2011). Type 1 diabetes: Etiology, immunology, and therapeutic strategies. Physiological Reviews, 91(1), 79-118.