Is diabetes hereditary?
(Lansing State Journal, December 10, 1997)
Diabetes is a disease in which the body loses its ability to regulate the amount of a certain sugar (glucose) in the blood. Glucose serves as food for the cells of your body. Without the ability to maintain a constant supply of glucose, organs, (including the brain) become starved. The main controller of glucose concentration in the blood is the hormone insulin. Diabetics have to externally monitor the amount of glucose in their blood, and regulate it with insulin injections.
There are two types of diabetes, one that starts when people are young (1 in 200 people have this type of diabetes) and another that starts when people are older, usually over 40 ( 1 in 10 people will develop this type of diabetes at some point in their lives).
Studies of identical twins have revealed that diabetes is, in part, hereditary. If one identical twin becomes diabetic, the other twin is at increased risk of developing the disease. However in some sets of identical twins, one twin will develop diabetes and the other will not. This indicates that there are also non-hereditary factors involved in diabetes. For example, exposure to certain viruses may put people at higher risk for young onset diabetes and being overweight increases the risk of older onset diabetes. Researchers have identified the genes that cause diabetes in asmall percentage of people with the disease. They are currently trying to identify additional genes as well as other environmental factors that put people at risk.