The cause of type 1 diabetes is the lack of insulin production in the pancreas due to an autoimmune reaction. The main job of the immune system is to fight diseases by producing antibodies, substances that eliminate foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. In some cases, the immune system goes berserk and destroys the body's own cells. Researchers believe that this is what happens in most cases of type 1 diabetes. The immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, treating them as if they were foreign invaders. When people ask what is type 1 diabetes, the answer may not be a simple, straightforward response. However, there have been a number of factors found that appear to be linked to type 1 diabetes, or T1d, which we will explore below.
Scientist suspect that heredity plays a role in diabetes, especially in type 1 diabetes. T1d seems to run in families. Studies show that if one parent has Type 1 diabetes,a child has a 5 to 10 percent chance of developing the same condition. The risk rises to 20% when both parents have Type 1 diabetes. Also, certain racial gropus seem to be more prone to type 1 diabetes. Whites, for example are more likely to develop the disease than are people of other facial backgrounds. The ADA reported that Type 1 diabetes occurs in less than 1 in 100,000 people in China but in greater than 35 in 100,000 people in Finland.
Autoantibodies act as markers and can identify the cells which are going to be attacked at the onset of diabetes. These destructive antibodies may be in the blood five or more years before symptoms occur. New test now make it possible to detect these faulty antibodies in the blood years before a person shows any symptom of diabetes. By testing relatives of people with type 1 diabetes for these autoantbodies, doctors can often predict who is likely to get the disease. By identifying these people at an early stage, researchers may be able to treat them with insulin or drugs that suppress the immune system and prevent the desturction of the beta cells in the pancreas, thereby protecting these people from developing the disease.
Many scientist suspect that viruses may be a cause of type 1 diabetes. People who develop T1d have often recently had a viral infection and "epidemics" of type 1 diabetes often occur after viral epidemics. It is also suspected that viruses, like those that cause mumps and German measles and the Coxsackie family of viruses, which is related to the virus that causes polio, may play some role in causing type 1 diabetes.
Oxygen free radicals, formed as a by-product of many chemical reactions, wreak havoc wherever they go. Some researchers believe that oxygen free radicals contribute to type 1 diabetes. Islet cells, which are found in the pancreas, have very low levels of the enzymes that break down free radicals. Thus, agents that increase free radical production could result in the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. If this is true, scientist may be able to develop drugs that block the formation of free radicals in the islet cells. The literature on the diagnosis of diabetes and the understanding and recognition of what causes diabetes is ever expanding. We just have to make sure that we are focusing more efforts on preventing diabetes and working to minimize the often dire effects of diabetes.