Diabetes Genetics and My Children
Last updated: March 2022
I worry about my children. I don’t want them to have diabetes. The reality is, they are at risk.
I have to admit, when I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes back in 2005 I knew very little about diabetes. I knew that because I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my son I was at higher risk but I didn’t really think it would be my reality. I realized my type 2 diabetes was caused mainly by my lifestyle. Years later, I heard genetics was playing a role. That gave me something to think, and worry about. Now it wasn’t just about the pregnancy, me or my lifestyle which I could control, there was now this piece I couldn’t. And worse yet, it could affect my son later in life.
Genetics and type 2 diabetes
I don’t pretend to know a lot about genetics. Here’s what I have gleaned from reading up on it:
- There are currently 150 genetic (DNA) variations related to diabetes that everyone, diabetic or not, carries.
- There are other genetic influences that may lower the risk as well as increase it.
- Our genes change over time and ‘express’ themselves differently depending on what else has influenced them.
- It is believed that the outside influence of negative lifestyle choices, can raise the genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- These genetic changes are very subtle.
- These genetic changes affect “the development and function of beta cells in the pancreas, the release and processing of insulin, and cells' sensitivity to the effects of insulin.”
- And lastly, there is still a lot we don’t know about these genes and how they work to influence the development of diabetes.
Searching for a family history of type 2 diabetes
I started asking some questions in my family beginning with my mom. She had been estranged from her one brother and seemed to recall hearing about “diabetes.” When I asked a few more questions, I found out he didn’t have diabetes. There was no one in my family going back a few generations on either side that had type 2 diabetes that we were aware of. My mom did however recall something about her grandmother. When mom was little, she remembers her grandmother giving herself needles which mom told me was for diabetes. We can also assume her diabetes was type 1 since her grandmother had been doing this since she was very young. Quite possibly this could be a genetic link for me.
Even back 20 yrs ago, experts didn’t believe as strongly as they do today that there was a genetic connection between all types of diabetes. Now experts believe there likely is a link especially in light of another type of diabetes called latent autoimmune diabetes of the adult, LADA for short. They have discovered this type of diabetes (Type 1.5) has genetic components of both type 1 and type 2.
Worrying about my children and their risk for type 2 diabetes
For my immediate family, I worry about my children. Both of my kids are as much at risk as the general population is based on lifestyle, their diet and activity. My son however was the diabetic pregnancy. I was healthy prior to the pregnancy, overweight but healthy. I followed the strict guidelines when I found out I had gestational diabetes to keep my sugars controlled. I did a fair bit of reading about what it could mean to the baby during delivery and shortly after birth, and to me later in life. He was growing at the proper rate, not too fast and not getting too big. I was pretty confident he would be fine at birth, and he was. The reality is, my son is the one at higher risk from a genetic standpoint.
I carry a fair bit of guilt over this. Logically, I know I can’t control how my genes changed but I still feel the guilt and sadness knowing my son or his children could be affected later in life. At present my son is 6’ 4” and slim. For him, lifestyle may be less of an issue. For him, genetics may play a bigger role.
I hope the dollars that are going into diabetes research helps to teach us what more we can do to prevent future generations from having to live with diabetes.
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?