Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin producing organs. It is most commonly known as “juvenile diabetes”, since it is the most common category of diabetes found in toddlers and kids.
Body’s immune system is an amazing defense mechanism that protects our body from the attack of bacteria, viruses, toxins etc. and guards our body from a variety of illnesses. But sometimes in some people, especially kids, the immune system gets over activatedby some trigger factors and mistakenly destroys insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas.
This leads to increased accumulation of sugar in blood since pancreas fails to produce sufficient amount of insulin which transports glucose into the cells. This inability of the pancreas to produce insulin leads to life-threatening complications. In this case the missing insulin has to be replaced by injecting it into the body. The major factors that cause beta cells to abruptly discontinue the production of insulin are varied.
Common Causes of Type 1 Diabetes in Children
The major cause of type 1 diabetes in children is believed to be genetics. A child with a family history of diabetes is at increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. If the child’s first-degree family member, such as a parent or sibling, has diabetes he/she has a 3 to 6% possibility of contracting the disease.
But it should be remembered that genetics alone cannot cause type 1 diabetes in children, since there many instances wherein a child with a family history of this ailment does not develop it. Some people have genetic predisposition to the disease and hence are at higher risk. Genetics, when combined with certain viruses and environmental triggers, cause the disease.
The main environmental trigger that causes type 1 diabetes in children is the presence of childhood viruses such as coxsackie B, enteroviruses, adenovirus, rubella, Measles, mumps, cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus. These viruses assault beta cells in pancreas and affect the production of insulin.
Among these viruses coxsackievirus play a crucial role in the obliteration of insulin-producing cells. Major studies conducted by UCLA and the University of Florida also proved the role of coxsackie viruses in causing type 1 diabetes in children. Genetics, when combined with one or more environmental trigger factors, makes a person highly vulnerable to this disease.
Infant Diet and Certain Foods
Early termination of breastfeeding leading to early and over exposure to cow’s milk or cow’s milk-based formula is a major factor that raises the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
This can also be considered as an environmental factor. Breast feeding of infants for no less than four months help a lot in reducing the risk of type 1 diabetes in children. Certain chemicals and food contents can also cause juvenile diabetes; for instance, nitrosamine, a common food stabilizer, and protein present in cow’s milk, certain drugs such as streptozotocin and pentamidine.
Besides genetic predisposition and environmental triggers, certain other factors that prompt type 1 diabetes in children are active autoimmunity, progressive beta-cell destruction etc. Contrary to the popular belief, diabetes is not caused by the consumption of foodstuffs with high sugar content. If a child is suffering from type 1 diabetes, it is the duty of parents to take utmost care and responsibility helping him/her to battle the disease effectively.