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What Causes Type 1 Diabetes

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes And What Do Type 1 Diabetics Have In Common?

Exactly what causes type 1 diabetes is unknown, however, it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. 

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system targets and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose can’t be taken up from the bloodstream into cells, leading to dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood.1

Genetics play a role because type 1 diabetes is more common among certain families and ethnic groups than others. Environmental factors can also trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes, but these are largely unknown. However, we will look at what environmental factors people with type 1 diabetes are typically exposed to.

Research is ongoing to better understand the causes of type 1 diabetes and new treatments may be developed in the future. In the meantime, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections daily to manage their blood sugar levels. With careful monitoring and treatment with insulin, people with type 1 diabetes can lead relatively normal lives.2

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes

Rates Of Type 1 Diabetes Has Been Increasing Rapidly In Recent Years

Recent studies have shown that the rate of type 1 diabetes has been increasing rapidly in recent years. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the rate of type 1 diabetes in the United States has increased by 25% since 2002, with a total of more than one million cases in the country. The increase was seen across all age groups, races, and geographic regions. In addition, other studies have found that rates of type 1 diabetes are on the rise worldwide with some estimates suggesting that global prevalence has increased by up to 21% over the past decade.3

Read more about type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 and type 2 Diabetes

What Are the Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes?

The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop very quickly, over a period of weeks or even days. Some common symptoms include increased thirst and urination, extreme hunger, blurred vision, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and nausea.

Left untreated, type 1 diabetes can cause serious health complications such as ketoacidosis (high levels of ketones in the blood) or diabetic coma (unconsciousness due to extremely high or low blood sugar). Early diagnosis and proper treatment of type 1 diabetes can help people avoid these health complications and manage their condition.

It is important to note that some people may have type 1 diabetes without any symptoms at all. In such cases, a blood test for glucose levels may be necessary for diagnosis.4

Environmental Factors That Appear To Be Responsible For Type 1 Diabetes

While the exact environmental factors that cause type 1 diabetes are still unknown, individuals diagnosed with this condition have some similarities. Specifically, people who suffer from type 1 diabetes had excessive prenatal exposure to certain metals like iron, aluminum, mercury, and arsenic. Additionally, prenatal exposure to air pollution, BPA, and phthalates has been linked with developing type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics also had mothers with lower levels of vitamin D during pregnancy.

People suffering from type 1 diabetes often have low levels of zinc, magnesium, and chromium in their blood. Diabetic individuals also have higher levels of mercury, lead, and copper circulating throughout their bodies. Finally, people with type 1 diabetes have lower levels of vitamin D than unaffected individuals.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Exposure To Iron

Recent studies suggest that prenatal exposure to iron may be linked to the development of type 1 diabetes. Early exposure to high amounts of iron has been shown to increase the risk of developing diabetes, especially when combined with other environmental factors such as early childhood infections. 

It’s believed that this increased risk might be connected to iron levels in the baby’s blood. High levels of iron can damage cells in the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin and controlling sugar levels. When these cells are damaged, it can lead to a decrease in insulin production, leading to type 1 diabetes.5

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes - Prenatal Exposure To Iron

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Exposure To Aluminum

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests prenatal exposure to aluminum may be linked to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Aluminum is found in many everyday products such as food packaging, cookware, and cosmetics. Studies have shown that pregnant women with higher levels of aluminum in their bodies can pass this metal onto their unborn children through the placenta, exposing them to potentially dangerous levels. Aluminum can disrupt the body’s immune system and may increase an individual’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.6

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Mercury Exposure

Higher levels of prenatal mercury exposure have been associated with an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes later in life. Studies have shown that pregnant women who are exposed to higher levels of mercury may be at greater risk of having a child with type 1 diabetes than those who were not exposed to the same levels.

Mercury is found in some fish and shellfish as well as in other environmental sources. Excessive fish consumption in polluted areas may also explain the reason why people who live near the ocean have higher incidences of type 1 diabetes.7

Although it is still unclear how prenatal mercury exposure increases the risk of type 1 diabetes in children, it is believed that it may interfere with the body’s ability to tolerate foreign substances and may disrupt the development of insulin-producing cells. It is also thought that mercury exposure damages the immune system, making it more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes - Prenatal Mercury Exposure

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Arsenic Exposure

Prenatal arsenic exposure may be a risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes. Studies have found that prenatal exposure to arsenic in drinking water is associated with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes among children born in rural areas. Prenatal exposure occurs when a pregnant mother drinks contaminated water, which can cause the unborn child to become exposed to arsenic through the placenta.8

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Bisphenol A (BPA) Exposure

Prenatal exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) has been linked to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. BPA is a chemical used in certain plastics and resins, and it can be found in numerous everyday items like water bottles, food containers, and even some receipts. Animal studies have shown that BPA can disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance, which may increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. In addition to this, BPA has been shown to cause certain cells in the pancreas to become less effective at producing insulin.9

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Phthalates Exposure

Prenatal exposure to phthalates, a type of chemical used in plastics, can increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Phthalates are found in a wide variety of everyday items such as food packaging and plastic containers. Research has shown that high levels of these chemicals when present in the mother’s body during pregnancy can increase the risk of type 1 diabetes in the child. Some studies have indicated that even low-level exposure to phthalates during pregnancy can raise the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.10

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Prenatal Air Pollution Exposure

Recent studies suggest there is a link between prenatal air pollution exposure and the development of type 1 diabetes. Air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM), have been found to be associated with an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes in early childhood. Researchers believe that these environmental toxins may alter the immune system and cause an abnormal immune response that contributes to the development of type 1 diabetes. Additionally, pollutants can inhibit pancreatic beta cell function, which is crucial for normal glucose regulation.11 12

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes - Prenatal Air Pollution Exposure

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – A Lack Of Prenatal Vitamin D Exposure

Another environmental factor that has been linked to type 1 diabetes is a lack of prenatal exposure to vitamin D. Research suggests that children born with higher levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream are less likely to develop type 1 diabetes later in life.

The mechanism behind this phenomenon is not yet fully understood, but researchers believe that vitamin D may influence the development of the immune system and its ability to regulate itself. It has been proposed that prenatal exposure to vitamin D can reduce the potential for autoimmunity later in life, thereby reducing the risk of type 1 diabetes.13

Read more about the connection between low Vitamin D levels and autoimmune conditions.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Low Zinc Levels

Low zinc levels have been linked to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. In regions where drinking water contains high quantities of zinc, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is significantly lower. Zinc is an important mineral for the body to function properly, as it is essential for immune system and pancreas function. Low zinc levels can lead to a decreased ability to produce insulin, resulting in symptoms related to type 1 diabetes, such as elevated blood sugar levels.14 15

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Low Magnesium Levels

Studies have found that individuals with type 1 diabetes were more likely to have lower levels of magnesium than those without the disease. Furthermore, research has suggested that low magnesium levels may contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes. In one study, researchers compared the blood magnesium levels of children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes to those without the disease. The results showed significantly lower levels of magnesium in those with type 1 diabetes.16

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Low Chromium Levels

Chromium is a trace mineral that is essential for healthy blood sugar levels. Individuals with type 1 diabetes have low chromium serum levels.17 Decreased chromium levels impair the body’s ability to process glucose effectively and can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, increased risk of diabetes, and other conditions.18

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes - Low Chromium Levels

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – High Copper Levels

High copper levels can lead to type 1 diabetes. Copper is an essential trace mineral that helps the body produce energy, develop connective tissues, and absorb iron. When too much copper is present, it can create a hormone imbalance which can increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Studies have found that people with high copper levels are more likely to have type 1 diabetes as compared to those with normal copper levels.19

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes – Low Vitamin D Levels

Low vitamin D levels are linked with type 1 diabetes. Low Vitamin D levels are thought to interfere with the production and secretion of insulin, which is necessary for controlling blood sugar levels in individuals with type 1 diabetes.20

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes

After developing type 1 diabetes, there isn’t a known cure, however, with insulin injections, as well as adequate intake of foods that contain high levels of vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and chromium, maintaining blood glucose levels is more manageable.

Read more about autoimmune conditions.


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2 Li W, Huang E, Gao S. Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus and Cognitive Impairments: A Systematic Review. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;57(1):29-36. doi: 10.3233/JAD-161250. PMID: 28222533.

3 Type 1 Diabetes. (2022, January 20). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type1.html

4 Type 1 diabetes – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. (2023, May 3). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011

5 Størdal K, McArdle HJ, Hayes H, Tapia G, Viken MK, Lund-Blix NA, Haugen M, Joner G, Skrivarhaug T, Mårild K, Njølstad PR, Eggesbø M, Mandal S, Page CM, London SJ, Lie BA, Stene LC. Prenatal iron exposure and childhood type 1 diabetes. Sci Rep. 2018 Jun 13;8(1):9067. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-27391-4. PMID: 29899542; PMCID: PMC5998022.

6 Ludvigsson J, Andersson-White P, Guerrero-Bosagna C. Toxic metals in cord blood and later development of Type 1 diabetes. Pediatr Dimens. 2019 Jun;4(2):10.15761/PD.1000186. doi: 10.15761/PD.1000186. Epub 2019 May 24. PMID: 31396560; PMCID: PMC6687082.

7 Abela AG, Fava S. Why is the Incidence of Type 1 Diabetes Increasing? Curr Diabetes Rev. 2021;17(8):e030521193110. doi: 10.2174/1573399817666210503133747. PMID: 33949935.

8 Grau-Pérez M, Kuo CC, Spratlen M, Thayer KA, Mendez MA, Hamman RF, Dabelea D, Adgate JL, Knowler WC, Bell RA, Miller FW, Liese AD, Zhang C, Douillet C, Drobná Z, Mayer-Davis EJ, Styblo M, Navas-Acien A. The Association of Arsenic Exposure and Metabolism With Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Youth: The SEARCH Case-Control Study. Diabetes Care. 2017 Jan;40(1):46-53. doi: 10.2337/dc16-0810. Epub 2016 Nov 3. PMID: 27810988; PMCID: PMC5180459.

9 Howard SG. Exposure to environmental chemicals and type 1 diabetes: an update. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2019 Jun;73(6):483-488. doi: 10.1136/jech-2018-210627. Epub 2019 Mar 12. PMID: 30862699.

10 Castro-Correia C, Correia-Sá L, Norberto S, Delerue-Matos C, Domingues V, Costa-Santos C, Fontoura M, Calhau C. Phthalates and type 1 diabetes: is there any link? Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2018 Jun;25(18):17915-17919. doi: 10.1007/s11356-018-1997-z. Epub 2018 Apr 21. PMID: 29680886; PMCID: PMC6028856.

11 Bodin J, Stene LC, Nygaard UC. Can exposure to environmental chemicals increase the risk of diabetes type 1 development? Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:208947. doi: 10.1155/2015/208947. Epub 2015 Mar 26. PMID: 25883945; PMCID: PMC4391693.

12 Malmqvist E, Larsson HE, Jönsson I, Rignell-Hydbom A, Ivarsson SA, Tinnerberg H, Stroh E, Rittner R, Jakobsson K, Swietlicki E, Rylander L. Maternal exposure to air pollution and type 1 diabetes–Accounting for genetic factors. Environ Res. 2015 Jul;140:268-74. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.03.024. Epub 2015 Apr 13. PMID: 25880886.

13 Sørensen IM, Joner G, Jenum PA, Eskild A, Torjesen PA, Stene LC. Maternal serum levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D during pregnancy and risk of type 1 diabetes in the offspring. Diabetes. 2012 Jan;61(1):175-8. doi: 10.2337/db11-0875. Epub 2011 Nov 28. PMID: 22124461; PMCID: PMC3237654.

14 Haglund B, Ryckenberg K, Selinus O, Dahlquist G. Evidence of a relationship between childhood-onset type I diabetes and low groundwater concentration of zinc. Diabetes Care. 1996 Aug;19(8):873-5. doi: 10.2337/diacare.19.8.873. PMID: 8842606.

15 Lin CC, Huang YL. Chromium, zinc and magnesium status in type 1 diabetes. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Nov;18(6):588-92. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000225. PMID: 26406393.

16 Shahbah D, Hassan T, Morsy S, Saadany HE, Fathy M, Al-Ghobashy A, Elsamad N, Emam A, Elhewala A, Ibrahim B, Gebaly SE, Sayed HE, Ahmed H. Oral magnesium supplementation improves glycemic control and lipid profile in children with type 1 diabetes and hypomagnesaemia. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017 Mar;96(11):e6352. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000006352. PMID: 28296769; PMCID: PMC5369924.

17 Karagun BS, Temiz F, Ozer G, Yuksel B, Topaloglu AK, Mungan NO, Mazman M, Karagun GM. Chromium levels in healthy and newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic children. Pediatr Int. 2012 Dec;54(6):780-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-200X.2012.03696.x. Epub 2012 Oct 9. PMID: 22783884.

18 Anderson RA. Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Diabetes Metab. 2000 Feb;26(1):22-7. PMID: 10705100.

19 Squitti R, Negrouk V, Perera M, Llabre MM, Ricordi C, Rongioletti MCA, Mendez AJ. Serum copper profile in patients with type 1 diabetes in comparison to other metals. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2019 Dec;56:156-161. doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2019.08.011. Epub 2019 Aug 23. PMID: 31472477.

20 Yu J, Sharma P, Girgis CM, Gunton JE. Vitamin D and Beta Cells in Type 1 Diabetes: A Systematic Review. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Nov 20;23(22):14434. doi: 10.3390/ijms232214434. PMID: 36430915; PMCID: PMC9696701.

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