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The Relationship Between Diabetes and Genes: Are You at Risk?

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About Diabetes


Diabetes is a long-term health condition, but is a life-long health condition in some cases. As more and more diabetes cases are occurring in recent years, more and more questions are being asked about this disease. In fact, there isn’t just more cases today than there were twenty years ago, but diabetes diagnoses are increasing at an alarming rate. According to the latest MMWR report (Morbidity and Mortality report),from 1995 to 2010, 100% increase of diagnosed diabetes cases reported in 18 states of the United States, with a 50% increase in the other states at the same period of time. Based on a 2014 CDC report, a massive 9.3% of the American population have diabetes. In 2012, of the total of 29.1 million, 8.1 million were un-diagnosed.

It is not only the United States that is having a drastic increase in diabetes cases. In the year 2000, India had an estimated 31,705,000 diabetic population which is estimated to increase over 100% to 79,441,000 by the year 2030, according to an official WHO estimate. In the year 2015 in Australia, around 1.7 million people had diabetes, this doesn’t include un-diagnosed diabetes (estimated 500,000). That was approximately 11.04 % of the population in 2015.

People who have diabetes, but don’t realize they have it yet are at the highest risk of health problems, this is because not treating the diabetes can lead to very bad consequences. Your cholesterol level rises, your vision fades, your kidneys may start to fail, in some cases we have seen it lead to patients losing lower-limbs. This happens when the disease causes damage to the nerves between brain and lower limbs. An accident or a wrong step can lead to an ulcer in your foot, and because of numbness and poor circulation, the healing process becomes very slow. The end result is an infection that spreads to the bone, which then gives you no choice but to amputate the foot. Due to these above serious consequences, doctors and epidemiologists are striving to not only find the cure to this terrible disease, but also try to figure out the main reason behind the significant and dramatic increase in the number of diabetes diagnoses. One of the main theories initially brought forth was that diabetes had a link with the genes in human DNA. So is the reason you have diabetes or know someone that has diabetes possibly because of genes? The answer is yes.

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream. This occurs when your pancreases ceases to create enough insulin, a hormone that acts as the transporting agent of glucose into the bloodstream. When there is a lack of insulin, there is a shortage of glucose is entering your body’s cells. It is also possible that there is in fact a sufficient amount of insulin being produced by your pancreas, but is not working properly. There are two types of diabetes divided into type 1 (juvenile onset) and type 2 (adult onset), type 1 meaning there is no insulin to transport glucose in the first place. This type is usually developed when you are a child. Type 2 diabetes is when there is not enough insulin to carry the glucose around the body or there is enough insulin but it is not working properly.

Are you at risk?

If one of your loved ones has diabetes, you might be worried about developing the disease yourself, or even passing it onto your children. Many researchers and scientists have been studying diabetes hereditary factors, and while a lot has been learned about what genetic factors may increase the chances of someone getting diabetes, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. For more than 20 years researchers in the epidemiology and genetic section in a Boston hospital called Joslin have been analyzing past diagnoses and cases of diabetes. According to their research, there are certain factors that can fluctuate the risk of a human: the person that got diagnosed with diabetes most likely inherited a predisposition to the disease. Secondly, it is possible that something in the environment has triggered the disease.

Are you at risk of getting type 1 diabetes?

At the Joslin Diabetes Center, a non-profit institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School, researchers and lecturers have conducted research about the relationship between genes and the disease for over 20 years. Researchers including section head Andrzej S. Krolewski, M.D., Ph.D., and Senior Investigator James H. Warram, M.D., Sc.D., have been continuing the research that began in 1946 by Elliott P. Joslin, M.D. Over the years, these two researchers and their colleagues have studied many different generations of families to determine ways to predict who is at risk of diabetes. They came to the conclusion that one’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes can go from a 1% chance to a 10% chance or higher, depending on whether or not a family member has developed diabetes and when they did. For example, if one child in the family has type 1 diabetes, then their sibling have a 10% chance of developing it by the age of 50. Another conclusion that researchers have come to is that the risk for a child of a parent with type 1 diabetes is significantly lower if it is the mother rather than the father who has developed diabetes. If your father has developed type 1 diabetes, then his child will have a 10% chance of also developing the disease. However, if that same child’s mother was the one that developed the disease, the chances of developing diabetes drops down to 4%, and if the mother develops it after she is 25, the chance drops down to 1%.

About type 2 diabetes


For type 2 diabetes, if patients know a relative that has developed it, it is more likely that it “runs in the family”, compared to type 1. This doesn’t always mean it has to do with genes, sometimes it is due to environmental factors. For example, obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle could cause a higher risk for all members of the family. In most cases, the risk of someone developing diabetes when his or her sibling has it is around the same as that of someone in the general population. However, there are some exceptions to this case. If the patient has a relatively healthy diet and exercises regularly, then the siblings risk doubles in comparison to the risk of someone from the general population. Also, if a relatively healthy patient has a parent that has developed type 2 diabetes, there are 3 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes themselves.

Is there a cure?

Currently, there is no cure for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but it can be treated by administering the insulin hormone, either by injecting it or pumping it. Besides adding the extra insulin you need to get the glucose into your bloodstream, you also need to follow a healthy and balanced diet as well as making sure you are getting enough exercise every day. When it comes to the schedule of your diabetes medication, a lot of planning and attention is required. This feels overwhelming to some patients sometimes, however, this doesn’t mean that you or someone close to you has to stop living a happy and healthy life. Effective diabetes care can only be achieved through listening and working closely with your healthcare providers. However, the most important person in managing your diabetes is yourself, making the correct decisions is important for continuing a happy and healthy life.

What we can do

Although the genes we inherit can have an effect on the development of the disease, there are always behavioral and lifestyle factors that you can take advantage of to avoid diabetes. Data from certain health studies conducted by nurses suggest that 90% of type 2 diabetes in women can be attributed to 5 factors: an unhealthy diet, excess weight, smoking, lack of exercise, and an abundance of alcohol consumption. Women who ended up in the low-risk group were 90 percent less likely to have developed diabetes. This low risk group all had common factors including a healthy weight, a healthy diet, at least 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis, no smoking, and control the amount of alcohol they consumed per week. Almost identical factors were found in the results of male patients.

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