What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes refers to a group of endocrine disorders, which affect the way the body processes glucose in the blood stream. Glucose is a type of sugar that is an essential source of energy and is broken down by a hormone called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. In someone with diabetes, the insulin is either ineffective at breaking down the glucose, which is referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes, or the body does not produce any insulin.

What Causes Diabetes?

Scientists have not identified a single factor that causes diabetes, but instead several risk factors are thought to increase the chance of developing diabetes.

  • Genes are one important factor especially in regards to the development of Type I Diabetes. Researchers have discovered a specific set of genes, without which developing Type I Diabetes is not possible. This does not mean that all of those with these genes will go on to develop Type I Diabetes, but simply that all of those with Type I diabetes have these genes. No specific genes have been discovered that correspond to Type II Diabetes, however if a family member has Type II diabetes, the risk of developing the disease is increased.
  • Obesity is one of the leading factors that has been associated with Type II diabetes, especially when excess weight is located around the hips and stomach area. The specific foods eaten is thought to play a role in this, as Type II Diabetes and Obesity are both much more common in Western Cultures.
  • Ethnicity also plays a role in the development of Type II Diabetes, with Latin Americans, South Asians, and Africans being more likely to develop Type II Diabetes.
  • Medical Conditions can also cause diabetes, with Type I Diabetes thought to be caused by an autoimmune disorder, which results in the body attacking healthy beta-cells in the pancreas. While Type I Diabetes is thought to be caused by a virus, Type II Diabetes is not directly related to viral infections. Since insulin is produced in the Pancreas, other medical conditions, such as pancreatitis, can also cause diabetes. There are also other medical conditions, most notably cystic fibrosis and hemochromatosis, which can increase the risk of diabetes.
  • Pregnancy can actually trigger gestational diabetes, which is a temporary type of diabetes similar to Type II Diabetes. It is caused when the body is not able to produce enough insulin for both the baby and the mother, but will usually go away after pregnancy. However, those who experience gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for developing Type II Diabetes later in life.
  • Hormone Imbalances can also trigger diabetes, which occurs as the hormones counteract the effects of insulin, resulting in the development of Type II Diabetes. Cushings disease is the most common hormone disorder associated with diabetes, which produces extra steroids that interfere with insulin usage. Another hormone imbalance called acromegaly can also interfere with insulin use and produces excess growth hormones.

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