Diabetes, an Inherited Disease or Handed Down From Parents Bad Habits?

Diabetes, an Inherited Disease or Handed Down From Parents Bad Habits?

DiabetesThe literature is abuzz with references to Type 1 and Type 2, previously known as maturity-onset diabetes being an inherited disorder, but is diabetes an inherited disease or is it handed down from parent’s bad habits? The prevalent view is that parents’ pass both types of the disease down through their genes, which which contradicts the earlier view that parents simply endow offspring with certain lifestyle traits allowing the deadly disease to develop.  Many people now believe genetics play the major role in conferring diabetes from parent to offspring, thus they are convinced they stand a good chance of acquiring it.  This view can have disastrous consequences because it infers that the course of the disease’s development can’t be changed or prevented.

Type 1 diabetes, which generally affects children and young adults, is believed to be a genetic disease whose initiating factors are contributed by both parents and its onset is triggered by environmental factors.  These factors are believed to cause an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system attacks the pancreas causing the destruction of the healthy tissue where insulin is made.  Then there is the belief that Type 2 diabetes, which generally develops later in life, is directly related to the social habits learned from parents. Although it is now believed  there is a genetic component involved in Type 2 diabetes, it is generally accepted that the types and amounts of food eaten, the regularity and degree of exercise incorporated into daily life, as well as the physical effects from an unhealthy lifestyle form the foremost contributing factors in the development of this form of the disease.   People in this group are often not aware that genetics is thought to factor in the disease’s acquisition and progression, and place the fault entirely on the deadly habits their parents gifted them.

Multifactorial inheritance, the fancy name for the parent’s gift, was elucidated in a 1964 study, well before the complex role of genetics in Type 2 diabetes was extensively studied. The study revealed that offspring younger than twenty years old of parents who both had diabetes, showed an earlier onset of the disease, than the older offspring who showed a later age of onset. This indicated that many high-risk factors were present in the families where there was early-onset presentation of the disease. Studies of this nature created a general belief that diabetes was mainly a disease of poor lifestyle habits and a gamut of unhealthy behaviors. But it is now generally believed that diabetes manifests from both multifactorial and genetic sources. Although there is clear evidence of single-point gene mutations which cause certain rare forms of Type 1 diabetes to occur, these only account for 2-3 percent of all diabetes cases. Evidence though, does not seem to support the argument that the vast majority of diabetes cases result directly from a specific gene expression.

Present thinking still suggests that Type 2 diabetes derives from a multifactorial basis, but additionally, it is accepted that the disease needs a inherited predisposition for it to be expressed. Environmental factors such as weather, viral diseases or diet are thought to play a role in triggering the predisposing factors necessary to express the diabetic state.

The question of whether Type 2 diabetes is an inherited disease or handed down from parents’ bad habits seems to lean heavily toward multifactorial lifestyle practices, learned in family groups, which sustain the development of diabetes in those populations.   The link that gene mutation plays in Type 2 diabetes is far from clear, as it can be argued that genes play a role, both generally and specifically in all of life processes. However the involvement of genes in the development of the 97% of diabetes cases which are not due to single-point gene mutations, does not appear to be have a clearly elucidated pathway.

By LC Loggins


Multifactorial Inheritance: A Possible Hypothesis for Diabetes Nancy E Simpson, Ph.D

National Genetics and Genomics Education Centre: Diabetes

American Diabetes Association: Genetics of Diabetes

Diabetes In Control.com: New Analysis Concludes Cause of Diabetes Not Genetic


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