Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the patient develops antibodies which attack and destroy insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. This results in insulin insufficiency or insulin resistance.

Source: Coriell Institute for Medical Research

Environmental factors: Genetics alone may not lead to type 1 diabetes. The environmental factors definitely play a role.

Viral infection. There are many different type of viruses including coxsackie B virus, cytomegalo virus, congenital rubella, rota virus, etc. are thought to be triggers. A recent study labeled diabetes and autoimmunity study in the young (DAISY) in 2010 showed that there was evidence of enterovirus infection in individuals who were recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or pregnant women who is children developed type 1 diabetes.

Geographic factors: Interestingly, there is a higher incidence of type 1 diabetes in Northern Hemisphere compared to Southern. The difference 
may be related to lack of vitamin K and/or D exposure early in the life which may put them at risk for type 1 diabetes.

Nutritional factors: Some studies indicate that breast-feeding may be protective against type 1 diabetes. There is also some evidence that introduction of gluten into an infant’s diet prior to 3 months and after 7 months has been associated with increased risk.

So, in genetically prone individuals, there is an environmental trigger that leads to break in immunologic tolerance and loss of beta cells. Over a period of time, usually many years, there is autoimmune destruction of insulin producing beta cells.


1. Simmons KM, Michels AW. Type 1 diabetes: A predictable disease. World J Diabetes. 2015 Apr 15;6(3):380-90.
2. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/diabetestype1.html

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