Over homework one day, my son turned to me and said, “everyone says that if you eat a lot of sugar you get diabetes. I guess that is what caused my diabetes.”
My jaw dropped. He couldn’t possibly be serious. I replied with my usual “Yes, I force-fed you chocolate bars at two-years-old and spiked your bottle with extra sugar until finally, I succeeded in giving you type 1 diabetes.”
The look on his face told me that he was serious. I suddenly shifted gears. For some reason, he actually thought that this could be true. He thought that too much sugar had caused his diabetes.
He asked why “everyone” would say that sugar gives you diabetes if there wasn’t some truth in it. I couldn’t answer why.
I tried to explain to him that diabetes was a complex disease. There was no known cause of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. There were some risk factors that made you more likely to develop diabetes, however.
Read more about the different types of diabetes on our Introduction to Diabetes Care page.
Where does diabetes comes from?
Type 1 diabetes is what is known as an autoimmune disease. This means that the body has created antibodies against its own cells. In type 1 diabetes, the body created antibodies that caused the pancreas to stop producing insulin.
Exactly why a person will get type 1 diabetes is still somewhat unknown. There seems to be a genetic component. Environmental factors may also play a role. Finally, some researchers feel that a virus may set off the immune system attack.
Type 2 diabetes also has a genetic component. If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, are over 40, are overweight, or experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy, researchers feel that you may have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sadly there is no common cause that fits every type of diabetes. According to Diabetes Canada, the reason why someone will develop type 1 diabetes is very different from the reasons why another person will develop type 2 diabetes.
Will my children get type 1 diabetes if I have it?
The conversation with my son continued. He voiced his concern that his brother’s children could end up with diabetes now that he had added the genetic component to their gene pool. He didn’t think that that was fair.
My heart broke a little more. I explained that nothing was a given in his own children’s gene pool or that of his brother’s potential offspring.
According to the American Diabetes Association a male with type 1 diabetes has a 1 in 17 chance of passing diabetes onto their child. A woman with type 1 who has children before 25 will have a 1 in 25 chance of passing diabetes on to their child. If the child is born after they turn 25, the risk drops to 1 in 100. If both partners have type 1 diabetes, the odds of passing it onto their children is between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4. If your brother or sister has type 1 diabetes but you don’t, the odds of your child getting type 1 is only about 5%.
Sugar does not give you type 1 diabetes
Eventually, my son and I continued to work on his homework. I believe that I had helped to alleviate some of his fears. Sugar did not give him type 1 diabetes. It doesn’t give it to those people living with type 2 diabetes either. The reasons for developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes are complex.
We could not change his DNA. There was no way to stop his body from creating the anti-bodies that attacked his pancreas. Perhaps one day we will be able to stop it but for now, we just live with the best treatment options that we can.
No one is to blame when it comes to having diabetes. We can only continue to work to educate the general public so that they understand that as well.
Do you know the signs of diabetes? Learn the warning signs.
Know the signs of diabetes
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