Every year, more than 15,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D), but health professionals and scientists don't have many answers about the causes and prevention methods for this autoimmune disease. Experts do believe that genetics and environmental triggers are factors in the development of type 1 diabetes, and that diet and exercise are not.
A recent study suggests that experiencing traumatic life events during childhood can increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes later in life.
Researchers in Sweden examined more than 10,000 children between the ages of 2 and 14 who had not been diagnosed with T1D. Parents filled out questionnaires that measured their assessment of serious life events (death or illness in the family, conflicts, and divorce), parenting stress, parental worries, and parental social support.
Results indicated that kids who had experienced a serious life event during their first 14 years of life were nearly three times more likely to develop T1D than those who had not.
The authors of the study concluded that a possible link between stress and diabetes is an imbalance in the immune system. This imbalance could cause an autoimmune reaction against beta cells that produce the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar. Other possible links between serious life experiences and the development of T1D do exist, and more research is needed to pinpoint when this type of psychological stress alters the autoimmune system.
"As experience of stressful life events cannot be avoided, children and their parents should get adequate support to cope with these events to avoid their consequences, which could include medical issues," recommended the study's authors.
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Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
Image: Child learning about diabetes via Shutterstock