Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune ailment wherein the body assaults its own pancreatic cells. Sufferers must be administered with insulin their whole lives to prevent blood sugar glucose to reach certain levels that damage tissues. It accounts for only 5 to 10 % of all diabetes cases and affects more years of a patient’s life than the Type 2.
Called juvenile diabetes due to a majority of cases is diagnosed in children and young teens, but it can also begin during adulthood, prompting the name change to Type 1. Unlike most cases of Type 2, the illness was not brought on by themselves by overeating and under exercising.
However, like Type 2 the occurrence of Type 1 diabetes is on the rise for reasons experts cannot yet explain. More often, there is a genetic pre-nature, which increases a person’s risk of the disease twenty times. But genetics alone do account for those affected.
Studies are suggesting environmental factors, like infections by enteroviruses that invade insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, high birth weight and rapid weight gain in infant and the feeding of complex proteins like cow’s milk and gluten early in a child’s life.
A doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the at Linkoping University in Sweden, Maria Nygren, directed the study which involves 10,500 healthy children, registered at age 2 and monitored for more than a decade. The study discovered that the experience of a serious stress tripled a child’s risk of developing Type 1 diabetes by the age of 14.
Two theories were formed on how such stress induced an autoimmune reaction.
One, called the beta-cell stress hypothesis, involves a rise in the demand for insulin due to higher stages of stress hormones like cortisol, known to affect children under grave psychological stress. Even high stress levels in a parent can produce high cortisol levels in their children.
Beta cells in the pancreas are the source of insulin, the hormone all cells need to extract glucose from the blood and use it for energy. When this hormone is not sufficient or lacking, blood glucose can escalate to dangerous levels. Undue stress increases resistance of cells to insulin, which results in elevation of glucose in the blood. This raises the demand for insulin and could overpower or deplete the beta cells’ capacity to supply it.
A second probable mechanism associates stress to a more general imbalance in the immune system that sendoffs an autoimmune spell on the insulin-producing beta cells. Both mechanisms may be involved.
Beta cells also release autoantigens that may trigger or increase an autoimmune reaction, “especially in genetically predisposed people,” Ludviggson added.
Tissues damaged by Type 1 diabetes, if blood glucose is poorly controlled, are the heart and blood vessels, nerves, specifically the legs, feet, gastrointestinal tract and, in men, the erectile tissue, the filtering system of the kidneys, and eye retina. In pregnancy, high glucose levels raises the peril of miscarriage, birth defects,pre-eclampsia and stillbirth.