What Role Does DNA Play in Diabetes?

What Role Does DNA Play in Diabetes?

October 07, 2021

With the advent of DNA testing services like 23andme or AncestryDNA, more and more people are curious about what their genetics mean. Some DNA testing companies offer screening services that alert clients to potential genetic predispositions to conditions like cancer. People with diabetes may wonder if their condition was caused by genetics or lifestyle. While both certainly play a role, finding an exact “cause” for any one patient is tricky.

How Do Genes Cause Medical Conditions?

Our DNA carries pieces of information called genes. These genes determine the shape and function of our bodies. Genes can determine how tall we are or whether or not we can digest certain foods, like dairy. Parents combine their DNA during the reproductive process and pass their genes on to their children. If a parent is lactose intolerant, their children have a chance of being lactose intolerant as well. For many medical conditions, it is unclear whether the cause is genetic, the product of the environment, or random chance. Even when certain genes are associated with a medical condition, it’s often unclear how those genes may cause the condition they are associated with. Genetic research is ongoing and will produce new information for years to come.

Is There a Gene for Diabetes?

Yes! In fact, there are many genes that are associated with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The study of genetics is difficult because of the variety of genes that may cause certain conditions. Additionally, the field of epigenetics has shown that behavior and environment can influence the way certain genes are expressed. As a result of this complexity, there is no definitive way to say that any one gene causes diabetes, as it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Some genes may be responsible for a child developing Type 1 diabetes, while others may simply predispose an individual to develop diabetes as a result of age, lifestyle, or other factors.

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes have a strong genetic link to the condition. People who have a parent with Type 1 diabetes have a greater risk of developing the condition themselves. Twin studies show that if one identical twin develops Type 1 diabetes, the chance of the other twin developing it is between 30% and 70%. While there is a definite link to genetics and Type 1 diabetes, other studies show there may be environmental factors, such as exposure to certain substances in the womb, the lifestyle of the mother, etc. This is demonstrated by the twin study above. While the twins have identical genes, there is only a chance that both twins will develop diabetes. Something in their environment either induces or prevents the occurrence of diabetes.

People with Type 2 diabetes also show a definitive genetic link, with dozens of genes that may predispose individuals to develop Type 2 diabetes. A family history of diabetes is often reason enough to monitor for signs of the condition, particularly if other risk factors apply. Other risk factors like obesity, smoking, diet, and taking certain medications can make the development of Type 2 diabetes more likely. As a result, doctors are likely to encourage clients to reduce their risk factors as much as they can, particularly if diabetes runs in the family.

Is it My Fault? Do I Blame My Parents?

Regardless of your particular genetic history or lifestyle choices, diabetes is not anyone’s fault. You and your parents are not to blame for the development of a medical condition. Genetics and lifestyle choices are not smoking guns that killed your pancreas or decreased your insulin sensitivity. Rather, genetics and lifestyle choices are patterns that carry small amounts of risk for each individual. Having a certain gene is no guarantee of developing diabetes.

Can I Determine My Child’s Risk?

According to the ADA, if you are a man with Type 1 diabetes, your child has a 5-6% chance of also being a person with Type 1 diabetes. For women, the chance varies between a 1-4% chance. Depending on other factors like the age at which you conceive, race, medical conditions, and the age at which you developed diabetes, the chance of having a child with diabetes can rise or fall. Services like TrialNet may allow you to participate in research that uses genetic screening to determine an individual’s risk for developing Type 1 diabetes.

Regardless of risk factors, it’s important to remember that diabetes isn’t a condition that has to stop you from doing what you want. At Skin Grip, we believe that people with diabetes can still get out, kick ass, and live fearlessly. To help them do that, we’ve developed adhesive patches and tape for diabetic sensors. Our adhesive patches are compatible with the Freestyle Libre, Dexcom G6, Omnipod, and more. Our hypoallergenic, medical quality patches help keep diabetic medical devices on, no matter the environment.


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